When hiring an employee who utilizes an assistive medical device, such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, or an artificial limb, what happens when their device is damaged at work? As with many legal and statutory questions, the short answer is “it depends.” However, in Wisconsin, more often than not, when the device damage is due to an exposure on the job, repair or replacement of the employee’s personal assistive medical device may be compensable.
Generally speaking, in Wisconsin, an "injury" (for workers’ compensation purposes) means mental or physical harm to an employee caused by accident or disease, and also includes damage to or destruction of artificial members, dental appliances, teeth, hearing aids, and eyeglasses. However, in the case of hearing aids or eyeglasses, repair/replacement would only be compensable if such damage or destruction resulted from an accident that also caused personal injury entitling the employee to compensation for disability or medical treatment.
But what if there is no real “accident?" Does there have to be physical injury to the person to initiate a workers’ compensation claim? These are all very valid questions, and facts would need to be explored to get beyond the “it depends” answer.
Let’s look at a few scenarios:
- An office/clerical employee drops their eyeglasses on the floor in their office and the glasses are damaged.
- Since there was no personal injury in this scenario, workers’ compensation would not likely pick up the repair/replacement.
- An employee is walking on a level/flat surface with no other hazards present (i.e. no puddles of water, uneven flooring, etc.) and they stumble over their own feet. Their hearing aid falls out and breaks when it hits the floor. The employee is ok and does not sustain any personal injury from the fall.
- This is likely not compensable under workers' compensation due to idiopathic defense (nothing in the work environment caused the employee to fall). However, if there was a hazard that came into play, such as a slippery floor, or the employee sustains an injury as a result of the fall, this could easily change.
- An employee is climbing a ladder and the hardware attaching their foot to their prosthetic leg/ankle fails and requires medical intervention to repair.
- This is likely compensable under workers' compensation as the ladder is considered a “zone of danger” – though if there is a defect in the prosthetic that caused its failure, there may be potential for subrogation/recovery with the manufacturer.
- In this scenario, if the employee were to also fall off the ladder and break their arm – the arm would almost certainly be covered even if the prosthetic repairs were not.
- A cinder block falls and crushes the employee’s prosthetic arm on the job site.
- This is very likely compensable under workers' compensation as the hazard arose out of the employment (but for being at work, the employee wouldn’t have been exposed to the cinder block).
As you can see, every scenario is going to have a unique set of situational facts that will all play a key role in determining compensability. Prompt injury reporting and investigation will be the strongest tools in your toolbox to prevent unnecessary claims. As always, please reach out to your Hausmann Group contact if you have any questions about a specific situation or fact pattern. We are always here to help navigate the complex system of workers’ compensation.