Testing to rule out exposure to potentially hazardous body fluids covered by workers compensation: KESA v. LEXINGTON DIAGNOSTIC CENTER (COA 8/29/2008)

WORKERS COMPENSATION:  Medical workers exposed to potentially
hazardous bodily fluids constituted an injury and employer liable for
medical expenses for testing and followup testing
DATE RENDERED: 8/29/2008

THOMPSON, J:  This is a medical fee dispute in which Kentucky Employers Safety Association
(KESA) appeals from an opinion and order of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which held KESA responsible for medical fees incurred by Lee Kirkland, an employee of Lexington Diagnostic Center. There is no dispute concerning the underlying facts.

On June 13, 2005, Kirkland was flushing an I.V. of a patient when blood from the patient splattered on his face and into his right eye. He immediately reported the injury to his employer and sought medical treatment.
The protocol for post exposure to communicable diseases was begun
immediaely, and  Kirkland was to be tested for Hepatitis B, HIV, liver function, and Hepatitis C upon his initial visit and, thereafter, six weeks post injury, twelve weeks post injury, six months post injury and twelve months post injury.
KESA paid for all the visits except it denied payment  of the medical
bills for the six-week, the six-month and twelve-month evaluations. It also denied payment to the laboratory, Quest Diagnostics, for the same periods. KESA advised Lexington Diagnostic Center that the policy for needle sticks and other such exposures was that in the absence of any disease, only the initial testing and one follow-up visit would be paid.

The ALJ found that Kirkland sustained a work-related injury as defined under the Workers’ Compensation Act and, pursuant to KRS 342 .020(1), KESA was responsible for Kirkland’s reasonable and necessary medical treatment, including the blood-borne pathogen protocol for ongoing assessment. The Board affirmed.

The amount disputed is relatively nominal, $700.05, but the ramification is significant to workers in law enforcement, medical first responders and others who, in the course of their employment, are exposed to potentially hazardous body fluids. The precise question presented is whether contact with blood and other body fluids alone is sufficient to constitute a physical injury for the purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The COA held that it does and, consequently, the employer is liable for medical expenses incurred as a result of medical testing and laboratory work performed.

Digested by Michael Stevens

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