NEW Minnesota Supreme Court Decision: EVIDENCE – EXPERT FOUNDATION – Eddie Hudson v. Trillium Staffing and XL Insurance, with Claims Administered by CorVel Corporation, A16-2017 (Minn. June 7, 2017)
EVIDENCE – EXPERT FOUNDATION – Eddie Hudson v. Trillium Staffing and XL Insurance, with Claims Administered by CorVel Corporation, A16-2017 (Minn. June 7, 2017)
In this case, Hudson (“Employee”) suffered an injury in the course of employment with Trillium Staffing (“Employer”) to his neck and low back. He also treated for a traumatic brain injury and psychological injuries. The parties participated in mediation, which resulted in a full, final, and complete settlement for all of the Employee’s injuries, with the sole exception of future reasonable medical expenses for his low back and neck injuries. A Stipulation for Settlement was executed, and approved by a compensation judge. An Award was issued.
Following the settlement, the Employee began treating with Dr. Savina Ghelfi, a psychiatrist. Dr. Ghelfi diagnosed the Employee with severe major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She also assigned a 75% Permanent Partial Disability (“PPD”) rating to the Employee for the traumatic brain injury. Based on her report, the Employee filed a Petition to Vacate the Award pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.461 (2016). The WCCA agreed with the Employee and found that his medical condition had substantially changed and accordingly vacated the Award. The Employer and Insurer appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the WCCA’s decision and found that it had “abused its discretion” in vacating the Award. To set aside an Award based on a substantially changed medical condition, an employee needs to prove (1) a substantial change in medical condition, (2) that the change was not clearly anticipated; and (3) that the change could not reasonably have been anticipated. The MN Supreme Court held that Dr. Ghelfi’s report failed to meet the first prong of this test, because it lacked factual foundation. The report itself was descriptively flawed because it never indicated what facts formed the basis of the opinion that the Employee’s brain injury warranted a 75% PPD rating, nor did it explain how said rating was calculated. Additionally, the record reflected evidence manifestly contrary to Dr. Ghelfi’s conclusion that the Employee required supervision during all activities.
The key takeaway from this case is that when relying on expert opinions, the parties must be certain that the expert report contains adequate explanation and factual background. It is very important to be certain to include adequate foundation when drafting an instructional letter to an Independent Medical Examiner. By failing to identify the facts on which an expert relied, his or her entire report may be disregarded on the grounds of inadequate foundation, as was the case here. Likewise, the foundation of the expert’s report is key to evaluating any appeal from an adverse finding by a Compensation Judge.
The case is Hudson v. Trillium Staffing, A16-2017 and can be found HERE