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Claim for mouse-related injury rejected

Not have enough evidence to indicate a clear connection to her work.
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Claim for mouse-related injury rejected

Claim for mouse-related injury rejected

19 February 2021

By Gaby Grammeno

A tribunal has found that a worker claiming workers comp for her painful arm - which she attributed to long hours of working with the computer mouse - did not have enough evidence to indicate a clear connection to her work.

Mouse-related pain

The worker had been employed by a Commonwealth Government department since April 2012. Her position involved office duties, mainly using a computer, including ‘a lot of mouse work for 7.5 hours a day with very little keying’.

In November 2014 she told her doctor that her arm was starting to get sore from mousing all day. She said she still had pain in her right arm even when she was away from work. She moved to part-time hours, but her right elbow became progressively worse while using the mouse.

After returning to work full time at the end of 2015, her right arm and elbow were quite sore, and by the following March she said her arm was ‘burning’ and very painful.

Even when she was provided with an ergonomic mouse, the condition did not improve. After taking some time off work, she returned in July 2016 but had to leave after just four hours due to the pain, which she described as ‘excruciating’.

For the next year she worked varying hours per day in an effort to establish a sustainable pattern of work but her arm spasmed (frozen shoulder) at work. This was noted by the first aid officer, who applied ice to her shoulder.  Medical reports at that time mentioned oedema.

She claimed that her employment contributed to her condition because her right shoulder and arm (which she used for mousing) were affected, but not her left arm.

She put in a workers comp claim for the condition, which was described as a C5/C6 injury affecting her right arm shoulder, elbow and wrist.

Comcare rejected the claim, on the ground that there was no evidence supporting the assertion that her employment contributed at all to her ailment, let alone that there was a significant contribution from her employment.

The worker then applied for Comcare’s decision to be reviewed, and retired from the public service eight days later, for medical reasons.

The case was considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia.

In the tribunal

The tribunal reviewed reports from a physiotherapist and 12 different medical practitioners, including GPs, occupational physicians, pain specialists, orthopaedic surgeons, neurologists and neurosurgeons, in the light of a variety of tests, including MRIs, bone scans and a nerve conduction study.

The specialists variously reported carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff disease in the shoulder, arthritic and other degenerative changes in some of her neck vertebrae, longstanding lower back pain, chronic multiple pain secondary to injuries with no obvious inflammation, and no evident nerve impingement.

One noted ‘a background of ongoing litigation with WorkCover, previous abusive marriages, catastrophising thoughts and fear avoidance behaviour’.   

Though one medical practitioner stated that ‘her work could certainly be regarded as an aggravating factor of some probable underlying condition ‘, another concluded that her condition appeared to be degenerative and it was ‘unlikely that the nature of her work which is relatively sedentary has had any significant impact’ on its development.

The medical reports led the deputy president to conclude that he was not able to determine the diagnosis of her condition. He was not satisfied that the worker suffered from a condition meeting the requirements of an injury, as outlined in a previous case he’d discussed.

He said that even if the condition did meet the definition of an injury, its connection with employment did not, on the balance of probabilities, meet the persuasive threshold.

He observed that a finding in favour of an applicant before a court or tribunal must be based on more than speculation. Though the onus of proof was not on the worker, she did have ‘an obligation to articulate a case upon which a claim might proceed’.

The deputy president therefore affirmed the reviewable decision denying liability for her condition.

The bottom line: Wrist and arm pain from overuse of a computer mouse is common. The risk can be avoided or minimised by introducing more task variety into the job, changing mousing hands (eg from right to left) and having more frequent breaks. Medical opinion as to the cause may not unambiguously support a workers comp claim.

Read the judgment

Oliver and Comcare (Compensation) [2021] AATA 86 (4 February 2021)

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