October 2019 WCCA Decisions
Erickson v. Qwest Corp., No. WC19-6276 (W.C.C.A. October 24, 2019)
ISSUES: Medical Treatment and Expenses; Expert Medical Opinion
In this case, Employee had a history of low back and neck pain prior to his employment with employer as a result of a car accident in the 1980s. In August of 2000, Employee was hired by the employer and began working primarily as an outdoor maintenance technician. In December 2004, Employee began to complain of left foot pain and was diagnosed with neuroma. On January 31, 2005, Employee’s left foot neuroma was successfully removed, and he returned to work. Employee returned two months later and again complained of foot pain. He continued to treat for 10 years and was prescribed increasing doses of narcotics. A court appointed physician stated that Employee’s current narcotic use in 2018 was eight times the recommended dose according to federal guidelines.
Employee eventually filed a claim and ultimately alleged a Gillette-type injury to his left foot. Employee underwent several independent medical examinations, which opined that the pain either predated his employment or was aggravated by his high dosage of narcotic use. The compensation judge found Employee’s neuroma resolved during an office visit following his surgery in 2005. On appeal, Employee argued that the opinions relied upon by the compensation judge lacked foundation, however he offered no objection at the hearing and thus it was unable to be revived on appeal. In addition, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals found that the compensation judge’s inferences made about the evidence were reasonable and based on substantial evidence in the record. The decision was affirmed.
Mucker v. Metro Transit, No. WC19-6286 (W.C.C.A. October 24, 2019)
ISSUE: Causation – Substantial Evidence
This case was handled by our own Attorney Thomas Coleman of Cousineau, Waldhauser, & Kieselbach, P.A. In the case, Employee was involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident in 2004 resulting in multi-level degenerative changes and severe spinal stenosis. He underwent a cervical decompression, discectomy and fusion at the C4-5 level in September of 2004 and was deemed to have reached maximum medical improvement in August of 2005. He was given a 12.5% PPD rating. However throughout 2006 and 2007, Employee continued to complain of increasing discomfort in his cervical spine. Then in 2013 and 2017, Employee sustained additional work-related injuries, and was ultimately released without restrictions on both occasions. Employee continued to receive ongoing treatment for his spine. In 2013, he underwent an MRI, which revealed that the stenosis appeared worse than previous scans, at which point steroid injections were recommended. Employee underwent an anterior cervical decompression and fusion in August of 2018. His surgeon opined it was possible that the 2013 injury accelerated the Employee’s symptoms, but conceded that it was equally likely to be a result of natural degeneration. The independent medical examiner from the Employee’s 2004 injury opined that the Employee was suffering solely from natural degeneration.
Employee eventually a Claim Petition in May of 2018 seeking medical, wage loss, and rehabilitation benefits resulting from the 2013 and 2017 work-related injuries. The compensation judge found that the 2018 decompression and fusion surgery were not related to the 2013 or 2017 work injuries. The main issue on appeal is whether the two injuries were substantial contributing factors to the Employee’s current condition and need for medical treatment. The WCCA found that the compensation judge, as the trier of fact, could reasonably reject the surgeon’s hypothesis that the 2013 injury contributed to the Employee’s condition and instead accept the 2004 independent medical examiner’s updated opinion which stated that Employee’s current condition was a result of natural degeneration. As a result, the case was affirmed and Employee’s claims were denied.
Brandia v. Keystone Automotive, No. WC19-6268 (W.C.C.A. October 25, 2019)
ISSUE: Medical Treatment & Expense – Reasonable and Necessary
In this case, Employee sustained an admitted work injury at which point she began treating with MAPS to address her chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS). She received a spinal cord stimulator. Employer and Insurer denied payment for the procedure and Employee filed a Medical Request seeking payment for medical expenses, at which point MAPS intervened. The case proceeded to a Hearing, and the compensation judge ruled that Employee did not have CRPS and denied the payment on that basis.
Following this decision, but prior to the appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. Darchuks Fabrication, Inc., 926 N.W.2d 414, 79 W.C.D. 291 (Minn. 2019), which reversed the general rule that treatment parameters do not apply in cases in which an employer and insurer admit primary liability but deny payment for medical treatment. Id. at 420-421, 79 W.C.D. at 301-302. The Minnesota Supreme Court determined that the treatment parameters will generally apply to a given injury once primary liability is established. Id. At 422, 79 W.C.D. at 304-305.
In the Brandia case, primary liability had been admitted, but there was no finding of whether the medical treatment was reasonable and necessary. Since the injury was admitted, the case therefore calls under the Johnson decision, and a finding of whether the medical treatment is reasonable and necessary is required under the treatment parameters. The WCCA therefore remanded the case to the compensation judge to make such a finding.