November 2019 Minnesota Supreme Court & WCCA Decisions

Block v. Exterior Remodelers, Inc., No. A19-0584 No. WC18-6214 (Minn. November 27, 2019)

ISSUE: Payment made pursuant to an award that is later vacated on the basis of a substantial change in medical condition does not constitute a mistake in fact under Minn. Stat. § 176.179 (1988).

 

In this case, Employee injured his low back in 1988 while working as a roofer. As a result, Employee had two back surgeries, one in 1988 and a second in 1991. In 1992, Employer and Employee entered into a full, final, and complete settlement for $40,000, excluding future medical expenses. Then in 2009, Employee experienced new symptoms related to the 1988 injury which resulted in two additional back surgeries in 2009 and 2010. In 2016, Employee filed a Petition to Vacate the Award and argued that there was:  (1) a mutual mistake of fact when the Settlement was entered into; and (2) a substantial change in his medical condition that could not have been anticipated at the time of the Award. The WCCA vacated the Award based on a substantial change in Employee’s medical condition. The issue is whether Employer was entitled to a credit for the $40,000 already paid under the vacated Award. The compensation judge ruled that section Minn. Stat. § 176.179 did not apply, and that Employer was entitled to a full credit against Employee’s current claim for benefits.  The WCCA affirmed. Employee appealed to the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

 

The Minnesota Supreme Court reviews an interpretation of the Workers’ Compensation Act de novo, or from the beginning; anew. The Workers’ Compensation Act allows parties to enter into a settlement subject to approval by a compensation judge. An award may be set aside later if the WCCA determines that there is cause to vacate it.  Minn. Stat. § 176.461 (1988). In this case, the WCCA vacated the Award based on the substantial change in medical condition. Employee argued that there was also a mistake of fact because when the parties settled Employee’s claim, they believed that Employee’s back injury was cured. Therefore, payment of an award that is later vacated must be a mistake and 176.179 bars the Employer from taking any credit for amounts already paid. The Court found, however, that there was no mutual mistake in the award. Neither settling party in 1992 could have foreseen or predicted medical developments 17 years later and that does not make the original Settlement and Award a mistake. Because no mistake of fact or law occurred, no mistaken compensation was paid and section 176.179 does not apply. The decision was affirmed.

 

 

Lenneman v. Brainerd Gen. Rental, No. WC19-6278 (W.C.C.A. November 13, 2019)

ISSUES: Expert Medical Opinion; Need for surgery casually related to Employee’s work injury; and Substantial Evidence for denial of claim. 

 

In this case, the employee suffered two injuries to his right great toe. First, August 8, 2015, he was wearing steel-toed boots when a trailer tipped and landed on his right great toe. Second, on December 29, 2016, Employee attempted to move a wood block by kicking it with his right foot.  Because the wood block was frozen to the ground, the impact from the kick injured the employee’s right great toe. Despite the two injuries, the employee did not seek medical care for his right great toe until February 2017. Employee saw Dr. Peter MacKay, Dr. Aaron Hokanson, a chiropractor, Dr. David Ruta between March 21, 2017 and May 14, 2018. Only Dr. Ruta on May 14, 2018 recommended surgery to Employee’s right great toe after assessing it as having right hallux rigidus, grade 2-3, which was notably symptomatic and “post-traumatic.”  Employee then filed a medical request seeking approval of the surgery recommended by Dr. Ruta.  His request was denied at an administrative conference, as it was determined the Employee had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the work injuries, singularly or combined, were substantial contributing factors to his need for the surgery. The Employee appealed the decision for a full hearing. Employer requested Employee be examined by Dr. Devanshu Kansara. Dr. Kansara agreed with Dr. Ruta’s diagnosis and recommendation for surgery, but did not agree that the work injuries were significant enough to play a substantial contributing role. The compensation judge Dr. Kansara’s opinion persuasive and adopted it.  Consequently, the compensation judge denied all the employee’s claims arising from his two injuries to his right great toe, including the proposed surgery.

 

The employee did not meet the burden of proving his case. Dr. Ruta ultimately did not opine that the employee’s right great toe condition was more probably work-related than not. Conversely, Dr. Kansara’s opinion did express the necessary amount of certainty, that more probably than not the employee’s work injuries did not substantially aggravate the employee’s right great toe condition.  The compensation judge adopted Dr. Kansara’s opinion and denied Employee’s claim. The decision was affirmed because the WCCA will not second-guess a compensation judge’s choice between competing well-founded medical opinions.

 

 

Thompson v. Target Corp. Office, No. WC19-6297 (W.C.C.A. November 20, 2019)

ISSUE: Substantial Evidence for Gillette injury

 

In this case, Employee was hired by Target in 2015 when she was 65 years old, working approximately 16-20 hours per week. in the 1990s, the Employee injured her bilateral wrists while employed with Abbott Northwestern Hospital and underwent surgeries. In 2011, Employee was treated for hand pain.  There was no evidence of ongoing medical treatment, however, for this complaint. In 2012, while employed at the MSBA, Employee saw a doctor on one occasion for pain at the right thumb.  She was advised to use a different mouse at her workstation, to ice her thumb, and to wear a thumb splint.  Employee made no further claims and required no follow-up care. substantial evidence, including medical records, the Employee’s testimony, and expert medical opinion, supported the compensation judge’s finding that the Employee sustained a work-related Gillette injury to her bilateral thumbs culminating on September 1, 2017 while employed for Target.

 

The self-insured Employer appealed, urging that the compensation judge should have given more consideration to particular facts.  Those included the employee’s pre-existing arthritis, her age at the time she began working for Target, and the prior medical care rendered to her CMC joints.  The self-insured Employer asserts that the Employee’s two prior judicially-established work injuries were to her CMC joints, and that those Employers should be responsible for the Employee’s current claims.

 

This case was affirmed because the WCCA found there was substantial evidence to support the compensation judge’s findings that the employee suffered a work-related Gillette injury to her bilateral CMC joints requiring surgery.

 

Summaries provided by Andrew Carballo