The Employee suffered an injury to his right knee on July 25, 2008 while working for Omni. Following significant MRI findings, including a chronic ACL tear, an arthroscopic surgery was recommended. The Employee underwent an IME with Dr. Cederberg on behalf of Omni in September 2008. Dr. Cederberg opined the Employee’s repetitive work activities with Omni were a substantial contributing factor to his right knee condition, and that the proposed surgery was reasonable and necessary to address the July 25, 2008 injury. The Employee underwent the right knee surgery on September 30, 2008.
On September 30, 2018, while employed with Schleis Floor Coverings, Inc., the Employee sustained another injury to his right knee. The MRI showed similar findings when compared to the MRI in 2008. A total knee replacement was recommended. The Employee was taken off work pending the proposed surgery.
In April 2019, the Employee underwent an IME with Dr. Segal on behalf of Schleis. Dr. Segal opined the Employee’s right knee condition was the result of earlier sports injuries which lead to an early arthroscopy, and not attributed to either of the work injuries. Dr. Kruse, on behalf of the Employee, opined that both work injuries were substantial contributing factors to the need for surgery, and apportioned one-third to pre-existing conditions, and one-third to each work injury.
The Employee subsequently underwent an IME with Dr. Wicklund on his own behalf. Dr. Wicklund opined that both injuries were substantial contributing factors to the right knee condition, including end-stage osteoarthritis. Dr. Wicklund apportioned equal responsibility between the work injuries.
The Employee underwent another IME at the request of Omni in February 2020 with Dr. D’Amato. Dr. D’Amato opined both work injuries were, at most, temporary aggravations of the underlying pre-existing conditions.
A claimed petition was filed, seeking, in part, approval of the proposed knee replacement and temporary total disability benefits. Both Employers disputed causation and nature and extent of the knee injuries. Job search was also raised as a defense to the claimed temporary total disability benefits. The compensation judge found the July 25, 2008 work injury was a substantial contributing cause of the Employee’s permanent knee condition, and that the total knee replacement was reasonable and necessary to address that condition. The compensation judge found the September 30, 2018 injury was temporary and fully resolved. Therefore, the compensation judge apportioned 100 percent to Omni.
On appeal, Omni argued the compensation judge’s conclusions were unsupported by any medical opinion. However, the WCCA noted that a judge is not required to adopt a single medical opinion. Here, multiple doctors found that the July 25, 2008 work injury substantially contributed to the right knee condition, and other doctors concluded that the September 30, 2018 injury was only a temporary aggravation. As such, the WCCA found there was “ample medical support for the findings made.” In regards to nature and extent, the WCCA further noted that the compensation judge carefully compared the Employee’s condition, symptoms, and ability to work before and after each of the Employee’s work injuries, and weighed each of the differing medical opinions. Therefore, the WCCA affirmed the allocation of 100 percent to Omni.
As a last issue, Omni also argued that the Employee failed to conduct an adequate job search, barring the temporary total disability benefits. The WCCA noted that the Employee was in contact with Schleis when he was laid off due to no work, and also contacted the labor union for work. The only work available through the labor union was work as a union flooring installer. The WCCA noted that the Employee’s work options were limited and the period between being released to work and being taken off work was short. Since the compensation judge assesses the adequacy of a job search, the WCCA affirmed.
Takeaway: The compensation judge does not need to adopt a single, or full, medical opinion, but can come to his/her own conclusion using opinions from differing reports, so long as such reports are well-founded.