Monday, December 18, 2017

Published:09/30/2014

Gonzales injured his hand while working for the Butterball evisceration department. He removed the guts, eggs, and hearts of the turkeys. While using a machine to clean and sort the gizzards, Gonzales’ hand became trapped. This resulted in his right hand, which is his dominant hand, being severely crushed. Although seen by several doctors who did not all agree in every fashion concerning the extent of his injuries, all the doctors agreed that he only had partial use of his right hand due to the injury.

The commission upheld the findings of the ALJ on all four issues addressed by the ALJ. The ALJ found:

1.  Employee was permanently and totally disabled due to the injury that left Employee with only the partial use of his right hand;

2.  Because Employee had not strictly followed safety protocol, his award should be reduced by 25%;

3.  Employer was entitled to set off for the period of time that Employee attempted to return to work; and

4.  Employee was not entitled to compensation for the disfigurement to his hand.

Gonzales is not fluent in English and cannot read or write English. He had worked in physically demanding jobs his entire life. Although the Employer’s vocational expert testified that he could perform light duty jobs and only use his left hand, the ALJ found the testimony of Gonzales’ expert, stating that he was unable to perform any manual labor jobs with the use of his non-dominant hand, to be more credible.

Ultimately, the ALJ, confirmed by the commission, determined that Gonzales was permanently and totally disabled. Importantly, the ALJ found it appropriate to consider, among other factors, both (1) the inability of the employee to communicate with the English language and (2) the fact the injury was to his dominant hand as factors in determining Gonzales was not able to compete in the open labor market.

The importance of Gonzalez is that the commission affirmed the ALJ’s finding that which hand was injured could be an important factor in determining whether a disability is total or partial.