Baldomero Sanchez-Rivera v. Swift Pork Co. et al.

Baldomero Sanchez-Rivera v. Swift Pork Co. et al., No. WC 18-6182 (W.C.C.A. October 31, 2018)

The Employee began working for Swift Pork in 2010 and primarily worked boxing meat on a roller table that was waist high. On July 27, 2016, the Employee claimed a cumulative trauma injury to his bilateral forearms, heels, and right shoulder with no specific injury identified. The Employee treated for his right shoulder and one of his treating physicians opined that the Employee’s bilateral shoulder and elbow pain was due to repetitive use of both shoulders and elbows as part of his job. He was given restrictions from overhead lifting and lifting over 10 pounds. The Employee saw Dr. Nipper for an independent medical examination and he opined in his January 25, 2017 report that the Employee only experienced muscle fatigue due to his work, which did not imply injury and explained that based upon the Employee’s MRI scans the Employee suffered an idiopathic condition, subacromial impingement syndrome. Dr. Nipper opined that the Employee reached MMI and did not need work restrictions for the alleged July 27, 2016 injury.

After Dr. Nipper’s report, the Employee was offered and accepted his prior position but returned to his treating physician two months later with burning shoulder an elbow pain. The Employee was taken off work for a week and a half and returned to light duty work on April 5, 2017. On April 10, 2017, the Employee claimed a new injury to his wrists, hands, and thumbs. The Employee sought treatment with Dr. McPherson who opined that the Employee had a new Gillette injury, separate from the previous shoulder injury, and that the Employee should not go back to his pre-injury job. The Employee saw Dr. Nipper again for a second IME. Dr. Nipper noted that the Employee complained of diffuse pain “everywhere” but that the Employee had full active and passive range of motion and maintained normal strength. Dr. Nipper found it troubling that the Employee had been on restrictions seemed to develop new injuries and new symptoms. Dr. Nipper further found reason to consider deliberate misrepresentation or functional overlay on the part of the Employee but also a systemic cause of the multiple aches and pains.

At hearing, the compensation judge found that the Employee did not sustain the burden of proof in light of the mechanics of his job tasks and the alleged injuries and, relying on Dr. Nipper’s reports, found that the claimed Gillette injuries were unrelated to work. On appeal, the Employee argued that Dr. Nipper’s opinion lacked foundation. The Employee did not object to foundation at trial but claimed on appeal that there were a number of factual discrepancies rendering Dr. Nipper’s opinion unreliable.

The W.C.C.A. found that Dr. Nipper’s conclusions were supported by the records as a whole, pointing to Dr. Nipper’s examination, the review of imaging studies, and the comments of the Employee’s own treating physician that there seemed to be an element of disproportionate pain and dysfunction as well as a lack of improvement despite not working and light duty work.

The Employee also argued that the compensation judge erred by discounting the causal connection between the shoulder and elbow conditions and the Employee’s work because the work was performed below shoulder level, arguing that the compensation judge should have given more weight to the Employee’s job description, which included heavy lifting over the shoulder. The Court held that the compensation judge reasonably gave significant weight to the fact that the job performed did not require lifting work above the shoulders, per the Employee’s testimony, and within the restrictions outlined by the Employee’s doctor. Similarly, the Court found that it was reasonable for the compensation judge to conclude that the nature of the Employee’s job, starting on April 5, 2017, did not contribute to the Employee’s alleged April 10, 2017 injury. As a result, the W.C.C.A affirmed the compensation judge’s denial of benefits.