Flicek v. Lincoln Elec. Co., et. al

Flicek v. Lincoln Elec. Co., et. al, No. WC18-6139 (W.C.C.A. July 24, 2018).

Employee Joshua Flicek sustained an admitted injury after being electrocuted while working as a technical sales representative for employer Lincoln Electric.  Lincoln Electric is a manufacturer of welding equipment and supplies.  On April 2, 2016, he suffered an electrocution when making a sales call to a customer.  230 to 460 volts of electricity ran through him when he put his right hand on a metal wall of a welding booth and his left hand on the plug.  He was “locked on” and unable to let go until the breaker blew a few seconds later.  There were no visible burn marks, but his hands felt numb and he had pain in his chest.

He saw burn surgeon William J. Mohr at Regions; at the time he was also describing symptoms of depressed mood and anxiety so he was treated in psychotherapy.  He saw Dr. Mohr again in July 2016 and Dr. Mohr diagnosed him with PTSD.  He had ongoing symptoms and was seen by Tom Kern, Ph.D., L.P., who diagnosed him with a decline in executive functioning consistent with anterior cerebral dysfunction which was likely related to the electrical injury.  He recommended psychotherapy, medication and a brain injury program.  He was also evaluated by Jerry Halsten, PhD, L.P., ABPP-CN and David Lund, PsyD, L.P., both of whom diagnosed him with PTSD.

Dr. Mohr commented on the causal connection between electric shock injuries, traumatic brain injuries and PTSD symptoms.  He also explained that the employee sustained a low voltage electrical injury with no underlying burns seen but that the employee would have died if the breaker switches had not tripped.  He stated that low voltage electrical injuries can cause damage and dysfunction to peripheral nerves, which can develop scar tissue and damage transmission of signals through the nerves.

The employer and insurer obtained independent medical examinations with Dr. Joseph Burgarino, a neurologist, and Dr. Paul Arbisi, Ph.D., ABAP, ABPP, L.P.  Each of these experts opined that the employee did not have PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.  Dr. Arbisi also opined that Dr. Mohr was not qualified to render an opinion on PTSD.

Following these opinions, the employer and insurer denied further medical treatment.  The employee filed a claim for medical benefits.  A hearing was held on November 1, 2017.  The compensation judge found that the employee’s treatment was reasonable, necessary, and causally related to the employee’s work injury.  She did not make a specific finding that the employee suffered a TBI or PTSD.  The employer and insurer appealed.

Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.011, Subd. 15(d), a mental impairment means a diagnosis of PTSD by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and PTSD means the condition as described in the most recently published Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.  On appeal, the employer and insurer argued that the compensation judge erred in relying on Dr. Mohr’s opinion regarding the employee’s alleged PTSD, because he is not a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist.  The W.C.C.A. rejected this argument and upheld the compensation judge’s opinion.  The W.C.C.A. noted that the compensation judge also relied on the opinions of Dr. Lund and Dr. Halsten, both of whom had the requisite qualifications under the statute.  The W.C.C.A. also noted that Dr. Mohr’s opinions lent further support to understanding the relationship between electrical shock injuries and their effects.  The W.C.C.A. concluded that substantial evidence supported the judge’s findings and affirmed the decision.