Basting v. Metz Framing, Inc., WC16-5971 (W.C.C.A. January 05, 2017).
Employee appealed the compensation judges’ holding that the employee’s low back, mid back, right ankle, and right knee were temporary, rather than permanent, in nature and that the employee did not sustain SI joint or coccygeal injuries. Second, the employee appealed the denial of certain intervenor reimbursement for previously held temporary injuries after the date of resolution and for an intervenor who failed to appear.
Employee sustained an admitted work injury on January 22, 2014 while working for Employer when a bundle or triangular roof trusses which were being hoisted overhead broke loose and fell on top of him. He was struck along the back of the head by the inner surface of the trusses, sliding down the side of his body. Further, the employee’s left leg was partly pinned under the trusses after the incident. The employee presented to Regions Hospital, where a CT scan was taken, showing unremarkable results. He was placed in a left knee immobilizer and referred for orthopedic examination.
A February 6, 2014 MRI showed probable meniscal capsular injury, a high grade tear of the medial collateral ligament, and a proximal femoral avulsion. Around the same time as this visit, the employee also was undergoing chiropractic services for his cervical pain, mid back pain, right and left knee pain, and left ankle pain which he associated with the injury.
On March 12, 2014, the Employee was diagnosed with left knee pain with MCL, meniscal, and ACL tears; right knee pain, and a right ear laceration. Further, on April 14, 2014, the employee underwent anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery.
Another MRI was taken of the employee’s cervical and thoracic spine on June 6, 2014, which showed small disc bulges or herniations at T7-T8, T4-5, and C6-7. An EMG was also performed little over a month after, dated July 14, 2014, which showed left C7 versus middle trunk of the brachioplexus distribution. However, on July 16, 2014, Dr. Collins noted that the employee reported prior episodes pain in his lumbar and sacral regions.
On August 30, 2014, the employee underwent an IME conducted by Dr. Comfort. Dr. Comfort opined that the employee had not yet reached MMI. Further, he recommended the employee complete physical therapy for his left knee. Lastly, he opined that the employee’s cervical and thoracic injuries would improve with physical therapy. In response to this IME, Dr. Collins prepared a report disagreeing that the employee’s spinal injuries were temporary in nature.
The employee underwent another MRI on September 30, 2014, which showed mild degenerative changes. Dr. Collins, on October 8, 2014, noted that the degeneration likely predates the employee’s injury. On December 22, 2014, when the employee was seen by Dr. Collins, the employee started to complain of SI joint pain with pain in the coccygeal region. As a result, the employee underwent a number of injections to the coccyx.
The employee underwent a second IME by Dr. Comfort on May 2, 2015. Dr. Comfort opined that the employee’s current complains have been resolved. Further, he noted the employee has reached MMI from all injuries and no further treatment is needed. However, he did assess 7% permanency to the employee’s left knee and 3.5% for the employee’s cervical spine. On May 26, 2015, Dr. Dowdle also reported the employee had reached MMI for his back and neck, without partial disability.
On September 29, 2015, Dr. Dowdle wrote an opinion letter stating that the employee’s current SI joint pain and sacrococcygeal pain were related to the initial work injury. However Dr. Comfort countered this with another report, dated November 19, 2015, where he noted these symptoms did not show up for at least five months after the injury. Therefore, he opined the employee did not sustain an SI joint or a sacrococcygeal injury. Treatment for all conditions still continued.
A hearing was held, for which the compensation judge found the employee sustained only temporary injuries to the low back, mid back, right ankle, and right knee. Further, the judge denied the intervention claims for any treatment of the temporary injuries after the May 2, 2015 resolution date. Last, the judge denied the intervention claim of Neurological Associates for the failure to appear.
The WCCA affirmed the compensation judge’s holding. The WCCA reasoned that substantial evidence supported the compensation judge’s reasons for accepting the expert medical opinion of Dr. Comfort. Further, the WCCA rejected the employee’s argument of a “spin” or bias for medical opinions offered by the defense experts. Next, the court rejected the argument that Dr. Comfort believed the employee did not complain of low back symptoms until long after the work injury. The court stated Dr. Comfort did not deny the low back injury, just simply opined the injury was resolved at the time of the second IME. Lastly, the court stated that Dr. Comfort was correct in that the medical records did not contain references to either SI joint pain or coccyx pain for several months following the injury.
As for the intervention claim, the WCCA affirmed reasoning that, first, the WCCA did not overturn the temporary injuries alleged in the employee’s first arguments; and second, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that Minn. Stat. §176.361(4) requires intervenors to make a personal appearance at all conferences and hearings unless a stipulation has been signed or the intervenor’s right to reimbursement has otherwise been established. Further, failure to appear results in a mandatory denial of intervention claims.