City of Tucson and Pinnacle Risk Management v. Scott Woodworth (9/30/2014)

October 23, 2014

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That Hernia Statute, A.R.S. § 23-1043(2), Should Be Liberally Construed to Allow Recovery.

In February 2013, Scott Woodworth, a captain with the City of Tucson Fire Department, responded to an emergency call that required Woodworth and a colleague to lift an unconscious elderly woman on to a gurney.  After Woodworth returned to the fire station and took a shower, he noticed that he had a golf-ball-sized bulge on his left groin.

Although Woodworth did not feel any pain associated with the bulge, he immediately notified his supervisor as well as the Tucson Fire Department physician, Dr. Wayne Peate, in accordance with department policy.  Dr. Peate diagnosed Woodworth with a left inguinal hernia and referred him to a surgeon.

Woodworth filed a workers’ compensation claim under the hernia statute, A.R.S. § 23-1043(2).  The statute lays out four requirements for a claim to be compensable:  “(a) the immediate cause was a severe strain or blow; (b) the hernia immediately descended following the cause; (c) the cause was accompanied by severe pain; and, (d) the claimant noticed the hernia and immediately communicated as much to one or more persons.”

At an evidentiary hearing, Woodworth testified that he did not have any pain associated with the hernia.  He also testified that he had suffered a hernia twelve years earlier and did not have pain associated with that hernia either.  Conflicting testimony was then presented by medical experts as to whether some patients are incapable of feeling pain associated with a hernia injury.  Dr. Peate testified that some individuals do not experience pain when suffering a hernia injury.  The insurance company’s expert testified that if a hernia was caused by a strain or a blow, it would be accompanied by pain.

The ALJ found Woodworth’s claim to be compensable, holding that despite Woodworth’s lack of pain, the statute should be liberally construed under the unique facts of this case.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.  Because competent evidence substantiated Woodworth’s claim that he could not feel pain normally associated with hernia injuries, the Court found that a strict interpretation of the statute, in this case, would lead to an absurd result.  Looking to the purpose of the workers’ compensation statute, see 1 Arthur Larson & Lex K. Larson, Larson’s Workers Compensation Law § 1.03[1], at 1-5 (2007) (“The right to compensation benefits depends on one simple test: Was there a work-connected injury?”), the Court held that the statute should be construed in favor of Woodworth and affirmed the ALJ’s award.        

Presiding Judge Miller authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Judge Eckerstrom and Judge Espinosa concurred.