JOHN A. BOLEN, Claimant Below, Petitioner
AMFIRE, LLC, Employer Below, Respondent
Appeal No. 2051914, Claim No. 2016012804.
John A. Bolen, by Reginald D. Henry, his attorney, appeals
the decision of the West Virginia Workers' Compensation
Board of Review. Amfire, LLC, by Sean Harter, its attorney,
filed a timely response.
issue on appeal is the compensability of Mr. Bolen's
worker's compensation claim for bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome. The claims administrator denied Mr. Bolen's
claim on April 14, 2016. The Office of Judges affirmed the
claims administrator in its April 5, 2017, Order. The Order
was affirmed by the Board of Review on September 26, 2017.
The Court has carefully reviewed the records, written
arguments, and appendices contained in the briefs, and the
case is mature for consideration.
Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record
on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented,
the Court finds no substantial question of law and no
prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision
is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate
Bolen submitted an application for workers' compensation
benefits alleging he developed bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome as the result of his work as a continuous mine
operator. Prior to the diagnosis of bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome by Syed Zahir, M.D., on September 29, 2015, Mr.
Bolen had been diagnosed with hypertension, hypothyroidism
employee section of the employees' and physicians'
report of injury signed by Mr. Bolen on May 8, 2015, states
Mr. Bolen injured his hands while working as a continuous
mine operator due to the continuous and repetitive use of a
remote control. Dr. Zahir completed the physician section of
the report on October 8, 2015, and stated Mr. Bolen's
diagnosis was bilateral hand and flexor tendon synovitis due
to his work.
Martin, M.D., performed a medical records review on March 10,
2016. Dr. Martin agreed that Mr. Bolen had developed
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome based on the records of Dr.
Zahir and the EMG/NCV testing results. However, Dr. Martin
did not believe the carpal tunnel syndrome was causally
related to Mr. Bolen's employment as a coal miner. Dr.
Martin opined, based on his review of Mr. Bolen's job
description, that Mr. Bolen was not exposed to segmental
vibration. Segmental vibration is the type of vibration that
causes carpal tunnel syndrome. Additionally, based on Dr.
Martin's direct observation of continuous mine operators
who were working in the mine, he noted that a continuous mine
operator "holds a remote control box and operates
switches with his fingers". The work was repetitive but
not forceful and did not involve awkward wrist postures. In
his opinion, Mr. Bolen did not experience the type of
ergonomic exposures compatible with work-related carpal
tunnel syndrome. The claims administrator rejected Mr.
Bolen's claim on April 14, 2016, based on Dr.
September 8, 2016, Prasadarao Mukkamala, M.D., performed an
independent medical evaluation. Mr. Bolen provided a history
of numbness in both hands for about six or seven years, with
more recent loss of grip strength and pain. Mr. Bolen stopped
working in 2014 because he developed arthrosis of the
shoulder that required surgery. Dr. Mukkamala diagnosed
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, which he opined was
idiopathic in nature. He found the causes of the carpal
tunnel syndrome were Mr. Bolen's obesity and
hypothyroidism. In his opinion, Mr. Bolen's work as a
continuous mine operator did not cause the bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome because it did not involve the use of force
and awkward postures that pose an increased risk for the
development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Zahir prepared a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor
regarding Mr. Bolen on September 8, 2016, in which he noted
that Mr. Bolen started to have symptoms of pain and numbness
in his hands in 2013. Mr. Bolen continued to have the
symptoms after he stopped working in 2014. In Dr. Zahir's
opinion, Mr. Bolen's occupation was a major contributing
factor in the development of the bilateral carpal tunnel
October 3, 2016, affidavit, Mr. Bolen avowed that his work as
a continuous mine operator required him to set bits in the
miner, put roof bolts in, shovel belts, operate machines that
mine coal, pull cable, hang curtain, and hang ventilation. In
his last position he used a continuous miner, hammers,
channel locks, shovels, axes, and a bow saw. He used his
hands, wrists, and elbows in a forceful and repetitive
Stoll, M.D., performed an independent medical evaluation on
December 1, 2016. He noted that even though Mr. Bolen had not
worked since October of 2014, his hands had gotten weaker and
he continued to have persistent numbness. Dr. Stoll diagnosed
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. He opined that the
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome was due to hypothyroidism,
depression, obesity, and migraines. At the time of his
examination, Mr. Bolen had not worked for almost three years,
thereby removing the occupational exposure. However, he
continued to experience the symptoms, which suggested the
cause was not occupational exposure. Dr. Stoll opined that
Mr. Bolen's work as a continuous mine operator did not
put him at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome because
the work did not require forceful wrist motion, awkward
positioning of the wrist, or the use of vibratory force.
Office of Judges affirmed the claims administrator's
rejection of the claim on April 5, 2017. It looked to West
Virginia Code of State Rules § 85-20-41 (2006) for
guidance on the causation of carpal tunnel syndrome. It noted
that West Virginia Code of State Rules § 85-20-41 lists
medical conditions that produce or contribute to carpal
tunnel syndrome including diabetes, hypothyroidism, obesity,
alcohol abuse, rheumatoid arthritis, and postural
abnormalities. Awkward wrist positioning, use of vibratory
tools, significant grip force, and high force repetitive
movements have also been shown to contribute to carpal tunnel
syndrome. After reviewing the reports of Drs. Zahir, Martin,
Mukkamala, and Stoll, the Office of Judges noted that the
only physician that found the carpal tunnel syndrome was due
to Mr. Bolen's work was Dr. Zahir. Drs. Martin,
Mukkamala, and Stoll all agreed that Mr. Bolen's work as
a continuous mine operator did not subject him to the type of
ergonomic exposure expected to cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
They also agreed that Mr. Bolen's hypothyroidism
contributed to the carpal tunnel syndrome. Therefore, the
Office of Judges found that it was more likely than not that
Mr. Bolen's bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome was not
occupationally induced. The Board of Review adopted the
findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Office of
Judges and affirmed its Order on September 26, 2017.
review, we agree with the reasoning and conclusions of the
Office of Judges as affirmed by the Board of Review. There is
no question that Mr. Bolen has developed bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome. However, while Mr. Bolen performed
repetitive job duties, they were not the type of repetitive
actions that lead to the development of carpal tunnel
syndrome. Additionally, Mr. Bolen stopped working at least a
year prior to the examination by Dr. Mukkamala and almost
three years prior to the evaluation by Dr. Stoll. His
continued symptoms and complaints after the occupational
exposure show the claims administrator was correct in denying
Mr. Bolen's claim.
foregoing reasons, we find that the decision of the Board of
Review is not in clear violation of any constitutional or
statutory provision, nor is it clearly the result of
erroneous conclusions of law, nor is it based upon a material
misstatement or mischaracterization of the ...