This case addresses a petition to set aside an award on stipulation for an alleged substantial and unanticipated change in the employee’s medical condition. The petition was denied.
On July 24, 2004, Kristina Franzen-Derrick, the employee, suffered an admitted injury working for Life Line Screening of America, the employer. While lifting ultrasound equipment into a van, she felt neck pain which did not subside. The employee underwent surgery and a claim petition was filed for workers’ compensation benefits.
Post injury, the employee had a long history of medical complaints and treatments, including, for example, complaints of acute back pain for two and a half weeks with no specific injury, depression, persistent neck pain and constant occipital headaches, hand and finger color changes of uncertain etiology, and low back pain. Employee was prescribed narcotic pain medications throughout this period and had a history of narcotic (and illicit) drug use. She eventually suffered and accidental oxycodone overdose.
The claim petition was resolved by stipulation. In the stipulation for settlement, the employee alleged headaches, chronic pain syndrome, and depression as a result of her 2004 work injury to her neck. The employee also alleged that she might become permanently totally disabled as a result of her injuries. The settlement resolved the employee’s claims on a full, final, and complete basis with some medical expenses left open, in exchange for the sum of $113,000.00.
Post settlement, the employee had an extensive history of treatments and additional complaints related to her previous injury. There was ongoing concern for narcotic drug seeking behavior. In 2018 the employee petitioned the Court to vacate the Award on Stipulation.
Minnesota Statute § 176.461 provides that this court may set aside an award on stipulation and grant a new hearing on the merits. Awards may be set aside awards only “for cause.” The petition to vacate the award was based upon a substantial change in her medical condition that was not anticipated and could not have been reasonably anticipated at the time of the award.
The Court found that there was little change in the pertinent diagnoses of the employee. Additional surgery was done, but as recognized by the Court, the fact that an employee undergoes a post-settlement surgery, in and of itself, however, does not necessarily justify vacating an award on stipulation.
Since settlement, the employee’s neck condition and narcotic use disorder have remained essentially unchanged. She developed other significant problems, but did not show a causal connection between these other conditions and her work injury. Moreover, to the extent that the employee’s neck and/or chronic pain conditions were any worse post-settlement than they were at the time of the settlement, there was no evidence that the worsening was not anticipated or clearly could not have been anticipated. Because the employee has failed to show an unanticipated substantial change in her medical condition causally related to her work injury, the Court declined to grant the petition.