Aegerter v. Fairway Foods, Inc.

Aegerter v. Fairway Foods, Inc., Case No: WC14-5715 (December 12, 2014)

While employed at Fairway, the employee injured his low back in 1992, his neck in 1996, and aggravated his low back in 1998. In July 1999, the employee and Fairway entered a full, final, and complete settlement agreement with medical expenses left open. Fairway admitted all three injuries. In August 1999, the employee began working at UPS and had intermittent neck and back problems for several years for which he received medical treatment various times and places. The employee left his job at UPS in February 2009 due to worsening neck pain and headaches. The employee underwent numerous back surgeries and received extensive treatment for his neck and low back conditions over the years.

He was examined by 3 independent medical examiners at both Fairway’s request and his attorney’s request at various times. The medical examiners reached different conclusions – one opining that he sustained a Gillette injury at UPS, another that he didn’t; one attributing all of the employee’s neck and low back issues to his work at UPS another attributing it all to his work at Fairway.

In May 2013 the employee filed a claim petition against Fairway for payment of medical expenses for his low back and neck conditions. Fairway moved to join UPS claiming that the 1996 neck injury was temporary and that the employee sustained Gillette injuries to his low back and neck at UPS.

The compensation judge found that the employee had not sustained Gillette injuries while working for UPS and that the employee’s 1992 low back injury and his 1996 neck injury while working for Fairway Foods were substantial contributing causes of the medical treatment and expenses claimed.

The WCCA reviewed this case de novo because it involved a question of law: whether “the findings of fact and order [are] clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted.”  Minn. Stat. § 176.421, subd. 1. If evidence conflicts or more than one inference may be reasonably drawn, the findings are to be affirmed. The WCCA affirmed the compensation judge’s decision because the opinions of two of the independent medical examiners supported the compensation judge’s decision.

Fairway argued that those IME doctors did not have adequate foundation for their opinions because they weren’t provided with all of the details of the employee’s job duties at UPS. The WCCA rejected this argument because both IME doctors examined the employee, reviewed his medical records, and took a medical history from him which provided sufficient knowledge to establish competence and sufficient foundation.

Additionally, the WCCA rejected Fairway’s argument that the court erred by awarding reimbursement to intervenors and medical providers who did not personally appear at the hearing because the compensation judge has the discretion to waive the attendance requirement if the intervenors’ right to reimbursement has otherwise been established and because Fairway did not specify issues with the claims or show prejudice by the non-appearance of the intervenors.