Michael Perani was a computer software engineer from 1988 until 1995, who sustained an injury to his “upper extremities” while employed by Island Graphics.
In 1994, he filed a workers’ compensation claim after he began suffering from pain, inflammation, swelling and impaired range of motion in his hands, wrists and arms. He was not specifically diagnosed as having a condition known as “thoracic outlet syndrome” (TOS), but his medical records describe symptoms consistent with TOS in the year following his claim.
TOS refers to a constellation of symptoms which arise due to compression of blood vessels or brachial plexus nerves in the space between the clavicle and the first rib (i.e., the thoracic outlet). Compression of the brachial plexus nerves causes a variety of symptoms, including pain in the shoulder and scapula area, pain, numbness, swelling and tingling in the arm or hand, reduced grip strength, and weakness when raising the arm. Thoracic outlet syndrome commonly arises in patients whose occupation requires repetitive motion, which causes inflammation, which in turn results in compression of the brachial plexus nerves.” (Borrayo v. Avery (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 304, 307.)
In 1998, Perani entered into a stipulated award which stated he “. . . sustained injury arising out of and in the course of employment.” In the space labeled “(Parts of body injured),” the award stated, “bilateral upper extremities.”
The WCAB upheld a decision by the WCJ that thoracic outlet syndrome involves a different part of the body than did the award. It consequently denied Perani’s application for expenses incurred to treat that condition. The court of appeal annulled the decision in the unpublished decision of Perani v WCAB, Island Graphics.
The question presented was whether thoracic outlet syndrome is encompassed within the award.
“Upper extremity” includes the hand, wrist, elbow and the shoulder – in other words the entirety of the arm. (See Smith v. Empire Pencil Company (Tenn. S.C. 1989) 781 S.W.2d 833, 837.) The term can be defined even more expansively, to include the neck and shoulders; essentially, everything from the base of the skull down. (M.C. Dean, Inc. v. District of Columbia Employment Services (D.C. App. 2016) 146 A.3d 67, 72-73.
The 1998 stipulated award did not specify that future medical treatment was authorized only for a particular medical condition such as repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome, which can be distinguished from TOS even when the symptoms overlap. Instead, the award broadly stated that the body parts injured were the “bilateral upper extremities,” without specifying a particular medical condition, and that there was a need for further medical treatment of that injury.
Had the parties wished to limit future medical treatment to treatment for particular conditions, they could have done so.