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Admin assistant at trucking firm has decades-old workplace injury claim dismissed by WSIAT

by HR Law Canada

Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) has denied a worker’s appeal for compensation relating to physical injuries and mental stress, concluding that the evidence presented did not establish a work-related cause for the conditions claimed.

The ruling addressed multiple appeals stemming from incidents dating back to the worker’s employment as an administrative assistant at a trucking company.

Background and appeal details

The now 54-year-old worker, who began her tenure with the trucking company in 2004, had been seeking compensation for ventral hernias, neck, upper and lower back injuries, as well as Traumatic Mental Stress (TMS) and Chronic Mental Stress (CMS).

The worker, who has not been employed with the company since 2008, initially reported hernia-related injuries in 2009, attributing them to her work duties involving frequent rotation and turning.

Despite several medical reports and appeals, the worker’s claims were consistently denied by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and subsequently by the Tribunal. Key to the denial was the lack of compatibility between the accident history and the diagnoses provided, along with significant pre-existing conditions.

Evidence and testimonies

The Tribunal reviewed both documentary evidence and oral testimonies, noting a history of chronic pain and fibromyalgia stemming from a serious motor vehicle accident in the 1980s. Medical documentation revealed longstanding issues with chronic pain, scoliosis, and fibromyalgia, all unrelated to the worker’s duties at the trucking company.

“The contemporaneous medical documentation details a history of fibromyalgia and chronic pain related to injuries sustained in a serious motor vehicle accident in 1987,” the decision states, emphasizing that these conditions predated the worker’s employment.

The worker’s claims of sexual harassment, which she argued led to hernias and other physical conditions, were also scrutinized. She alleged that a manager’s inappropriate behavior, including explicit emails and comments, contributed to her health issues. However, the Tribunal found inconsistencies and delays in reporting these incidents, undermining the credibility of the claims.

Ruling on physical injuries

Regarding the ventral hernias and back injuries, the Tribunal concluded that the worker’s duties did not involve the prolonged and strenuous activities typically associated with such injuries. The ruling highlighted that the worker’s role was largely sedentary, involving tasks such as sitting at a desk and occasionally lifting items.

“We find that the work duties were not likely a significant contributing factor to the development of the hernias and her neck and back pain,” the Tribunal wrote.

Ruling on mental stress claims

The worker’s claims for TMS and CMS were similarly denied. The Tribunal found that the evidence did not support the existence of a substantial work-related stressor leading to a psychological condition. Notably, the worker had a significant history of psychological issues, including childhood trauma and prior diagnoses of PTSD and Adjustment Disorder with depressed mood.

“The significant delay in reporting strongly suggests that the alleged sexual harassment was not a substantial stressor within the meaning of the policy,” the decision noted. The Tribunal also pointed out that the worker continued a voluntary relationship with the accused manager after leaving the workplace, further casting doubt on the severity of the alleged harassment.

Conclusion

In concluding, the Tribunal expressed sympathy for the worker’s experiences but maintained that the evidence and their jurisdiction did not permit granting the sought remedies.

“This decision is simply a reflection of the application of Board policy and law within the confines of our jurisdiction to the facts of this case,” the ruling stated.

The worker’s appeal was formally denied, closing a long and complex case.

For more information, see Decision No. 1149/14, 2024 ONWSIAT 550 (CanLII).

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