Compensability of a Crooked Nose

May 7th, 2012 by

Imagine the scene at the Pennsylvania Workers’ Comp Appeal Board earlier this year: the judges each carefully examined the nose of Rhonda Walker, to determine just how crooked it was and whether Walker was entitled to disfigurement benefits. Prior to the appeals hearing, a judge had awarded Walker 45 weeks of compensation for scars and disfigurement on her nose.
WorkCompCentral (subscription required) tells us that Walker was a meter reader for Health Consultants. In May 2007 she fell down a flight of stairs and fractured her nose. She was cleared for full duty in August, at which time her indemnity payments were halted. She resigned her position soon after and then filed for permanent disfigurement benefits; she considered herself to be “deformed” because her nose had scars and the tip was crooked.
Following their close and individual examination of Walker’s nose, the judges determined that there was “a slight crookedness” but this was “not noticeably disfiguring.” The alteration in her nose did not “rise to the level of creating an unsightly appearance.” They reversed the award of disfigurement damages. Walker may be self-conscious about her transformed nose, but the changes are not compensable.
Aesthetics and Self-Image
With all the emphasis on personal appearance in this culture, with the myriad options for changing one’s appearance, it is easy to become obsessed with what we see in the mirror. (I often wonder where that aging man in the bathroom mirror came from.) A few years back we blogged the interesting case of Penny Rumple Richardson, one of whose breast implants was damaged in a work-related auto accident. In the understandable interests of symmetry, her doctor replaced both implants. In the similarly related interests of compensability, the comp insurer paid for one implant and denied the other as not being work related.
Rhonda Walker is sensitive to the imperfections that greet her every time she looks in the mirror, but she will not be reimbursed for her troubles. In a mysterious footnote, President Judge Dan Pelligrini dissented without opinion. Given his silence, we will never know what he was thinking, but it appears that he bought Walker’s argument. In the inherently subjective matter of compensability, who knows whose nose meets an elusive standard?