Debra Peterson v. Midwest Machine Tool, Inc.

Debra Peterson v. Midwest Machine Tool, Inc., No. WC16-6004 (W.C.C.A. Mar. 7, 2017)

The Employee appealed the Compensation Judge’s determination that she did not sustain a Gillette injury to her low back. Substantial evidence, in the form of a well-founded medical opinion, supports the Compensation Judge’s determination.

The Employee alleged that she suffered a low back injury after years of sitting in uncomfortable office chairs. Starting in 2009 or 2010, she swapped chairs with a co-worker and eventually tried no fewer than 15 chairs. Nothing she tried was helpful and she continued to have low back and leg pain. The Employee testified that she would sit for 7 ½ hours per work day. On cross examination, she testified that she would leave her chair to do filing, photocopying, and to take bathroom breaks. She also had a telephone headset that allowed her to stand when desired.

Her treating doctor concluded that the Employee’s pain to her bilateral legs is related to the work environment and referred the Employee to occupational medicine, but did not issue any work restrictions. The occupational medicine doctor concluded that the Employee had kyphosis in the thoracic spine as well as left-sided low back pain with sciatica. The Employee then saw Dr. Asmussen at TRIA on March 8, 2016. The Employee informed Dr. Asmussen that she had seen no improvement in her symptoms, even though her Employment had been terminated six months previously.

The Employer and Insurer requested an IME with Dr. Strand on March 7, 2016. Dr. Strand observed kyphoscoliosis, and diagnosed the Employee with “subjective low back pain.” He found no evidence that sitting in a chair while working at Employer is a substantial contributing cause of the Employee’s low back pain. He found no objective findings to support the Employee’s claims.

The Employee also argued that Dr. Strand did not have adequate foundation for his opinion because he had not reviewed an MRI that showed some disc bulges in the lumbar spine. However, the WCCA noted there was no medical opinion that the MRI findings had anything to do with the Employee’s symptoms or condition. One of the Employee’s treating doctors, Dr. Asmussen, even commented that the MRI findings did not correlate to the Employee’s symptoms.

On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed the Compensation Judge primarily by noting that the Employee’s treating doctors provided opinions based primarily on the Employee’s history that her symptoms were brought about by prolonged sitting at work. The Compensation Judge did not find the Employee’s testimony to be credible in this regard.  The Court relied on Nord v. City of Cook in that it is the Compensation Judge’s function to choose between competing medical opinions. It also relied on Kranz v. Coca-Cola in that a medical opinion with adequate foundation will support a Compensation Judge’s finding as to the existence of a Gillette injury.