Court of Appeal upholds standard: Establishing link between employment, workplace injuries

The plaintiff ceased working in 2002 due to the deterioration of his vision in the course of his employment as a butcher; he was exposed to chemicals and suffered blows to the head from hanging hooks. The subsequent year he applied for disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). An optometrist medical examiner, Dr. Jeannot Cormier, reported, validating reports from Montreal and Ottawa, a cone-rod retinal dystrophy and a progressive bilateral retinal degeneration that led to a loss of central vision.

In 2021, the plaintiff sought workers’ compensation benefits from the commission for the eye injury suffered from his employment. However, the commission was informed by the plaintiff’s medical examiner, who examined him in 1990, that the problem was not a result of an injury. The commission concluded that the plaintiff’s condition was not work-related.

The plaintiff challenged the commission’s decision requesting a reconsideration under s 22(1) of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission and Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal Act. However, after receiving the medical report and recommendations from the plaintiff’s genetic test, the Appeals Tribunal decided to decline the plaintiff’s appeal.

In its reasons, the Appeals Tribunal stated that it was not qualified to interpret the medical literature on record. It also found that the appellant’s vision became blurred in the course of his employment and stated that it was possible to conclude that the appellant’s injury had occurred in the course of his employment. However, Cormier’s evidence clearly and unequivocally established that the applicant’s vision loss was not due to an injury.

Issues

Did the Appeals Tribunal fail to make a decision based on the real merits and justice of this case by rejecting medical evidence produced by the appellant on the basis that it did not understand it?

Did the Appeals Tribunal make an inconsistent decision on the central issue of whether the appellant’s condition was the result of an injury?

Issue 1: Appeals Tribunal’s alleged failure to consider medical evidence: A question of merits and justice

The court found that the Appeals Tribunal failed to adequately question the parties or clarify evidence in the appellant’s case, which led to uncertainty about their interpretation of “medical literature” and whether they could competently assess it.

Relying on s 21(9) of the Commission Act and Policy 21-113, the court held that the Appeals Tribunal is obligated to interpret and weigh medical evidence in its decision-making process on a case-by-case basis based on the real merits and justice of the particular case. The failure to adhere to these policies constitutes a legal error. The counsel for the commission urged the court to consider the context in its entirety and to interpret the Appeals Tribunal’s comments individually. However, the court concluded that the Appeals Tribunal relinquished its role of interpreting and weighing the evidence by stating that it was not qualified to analyze it.

Issue 2: Inconsistencies in the Appeals Tribunal’s decision regarding the appellant’s condition as resulting from an injury

This court found that the central issue, in this case, revolves around whether the injury to the appellant’s vision constitutes a “personal injury” that arose out of and in the course of employment, as defined by s 7(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Despite an error in the use of the term “injury,” the Appeals Tribunal acknowledged that the appellant’s vision issues occurred during his employment and triggered the presumption of work related injury under s 7(2). However, the Appeals Tribunal ultimately relied on contradictory evidence from Cormier, constituting a palpable and overriding error that warrants the court’s intervention.

Conclusion

The court granted the Appellant’s appeal and ordered a new hearing before the Appeals Tribunal (Bulger v. New Brunswick (Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission), [2024] N.B.J. No. 22). Further, the court stated that the success or failure of the appellant’s claim depends on whether the appellant can establish a connection between his employment and his vision problems rather than disproving a genetic condition as the cause.

Takeaway

The case highlights the importance of thorough consideration and interpretation of medical evidence in legal proceedings, particularly in cases concerning workplace injuries. The Appeals Tribunal’s failure to adequately assess the evidence and its inconsistent decision-making process led to legal errors and necessitated intervention from the court. The outcome emphasizes the need for fairness and justice in determining compensation claims, focusing on establishing a clear link between the employment and the claimed injury.

This article was written by Taiwo Onabolu, Employment Lawyer at Monkhouse Law and was originally published in Law360 Canada on May 3, 2024.

Monkhouse Law is an employment law firm in Toronto that focuses on employee issues. Call us at 416-907-9249 or fill out this quick form. We offer a free 30-minute phone consultation.

    Free Consultation

    Call us for a free 30 minute phone consultation at 416-907-9249 or submit a callback request. We endeavor to phone you back once we have reviewed the information, calls will be Monday to Friday between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM:


    YesNo


    Monkhouse Law