Dahlheimer v. Qwest Corp.

Dahlheimer v. Qwest Corp., No. WC14-5696 (September 2, 2014)

In Dahlheimer, employer and insurer appeal the compensation judge’s determination that the employee was entitled to a rehabilitation consultation.

The employee worked for Qwest as an installation tech and subsequently sustained a low back injury on July 25, 2005.  He underwent surgery, received PPD benefits, and returned to full duty work with Quest.  Later, on June 16, 2007, the employee injured his left knee and again underwent surgery.  He later returned to work full time at a sedentary position, which paid better than his previous position.

Subsequently, the employee began suffering from non-work-related vertigo and tinnitus which became disabling over time.  By 2012 the employee was on short-term disability status and then sought long-term disability and social security disability benefits. As a result of the vertigo and tinnitis, an outside physician opined that the Employee could work “in a very limited capacity,” at home, with lowered light, little use of a computer, and little motion of the head and torso. Finally, he could not work at heights.

In response to the employee’s request for a rehabilitation consultation, the employer and insurer argued that the employee’s non-work-related vertigo constituted a superseding intervening cause of the employee’s disability and joblessness. As the employee was able work until the onset of his non-work disability, there was no longer a casual connection to the work injuries, and no entitlement to a rehabilitation consultation.

The compensation judge found that the employee’s non-work-related disability might permit him to perform some kind of work and awarded the consultation, noting that it will help determine whether the Employee is qualified for rehabilitation purposes.

The WCCA affirmed the compensation judge, finding that the employer and insurer erroneously applied a “but-for” test with respect to a superseding intervening cause.  The proper test is whether the superseding intervening cause “is one which severs the causal link between the original personal injury and the resultant disability,” thereby rendering it no longer a substantially contributing cause.

As there was support for the employee’s contention that he had work-related restrictions above and beyond his subsequent disability, the appeals court determined that the compensation judge was not clearly erroneous in her original findings and order.