Hanson v. Elec. Builders, Inc., et. al.

Hanson v. Elec. Builders, Inc., et. al. No. WC16-5987 (W.C.C.A. Feb. 3, 2017)

The employee was a 49 year old electrician who sustained an admitted Gillette cervical injury on July 30, 2013. The employee had a history of some prior neck and back treatment in 2006 with his chiropractor Dr. Benson. He was diagnosed with segmented dysfunction in 2012 by Dr. Benson. The employee returned in June 2013 and in July was referred to Dr. Van Etta for a consult due to right arm symptoms. An MRI revealed a C5-6 protrusion. The employee ended up undergoing a discectomy and fusion on September 27, 2013. HE was held off work throughout the duration of this treatment. Prior to the work injury, the employee had non-work related issues with his feet. He ended up having a partial right transmetatarsal amputation and hardware removal and a left foot surgery.

The employee had an IME with Dr. Hood January 21, 2014 who opined the employee’s work activities were a substantial contributing cause to his cervical spine injury and that it aggravated his preexisting cervical condition. He said the employee would be at MMI after physical therapy and rated 11.5% PPD. He also assigned a 25 pound lift restriction for overhead work.

The employee continued to treat for his cervical condition. He also treated for his lumbar. He had an injection on June 2, 2014 to his cervical spine from which he received temporary relief. He was still off work. He eventually was referred to a pain program and was diagnosed with cervical chronic pain syndrome. Dr. Hood issued an addendum IME December 8, 2014 placing the employee at MMI with no need for further treatment and that the injection was unreasonable. He continued his previous restrictions.

Dr. Van Etta issued a letter that the employee’s treatments of topical gel and injections were reasonable and necessary and caused by his work injury. He found the employee not yet at MMI and that he wouldn’t be for 1-2 years.

The employee’s attorney sent him to an evaluation with Dr. Gregorson who found all treatment was reasonable and necessary and less physically demanding work would be appropriate.

The employee then had an IVE and it was determined the employee was not permanently and totally disabled and would be capable of more than sporadic employment once released by his treating physicians. It was also determined job search would be inappropriate.

Dr. Van Etta referred the employee to a neurologist Dr. Myerson for balance issues and on April 5, 2016 he was examined. She determined the employee was unable to work as an electrician and was likely unemployable due to his cervical condition. She found him restricted from all vocational activities due to his condition.

At hearing, the employee’s claims for a lumbar condition were rejected and denied in full, as the judge did not find it related. The judge did find the employee’s cervical condition related and found the employee was restricted from all vocational activity, and that job search would be futile. He awarded PTD benefits and medical. The employer and insurer appealed.

On appeal the employer and insurer argued the employee’s other conditions were contributing more so to his disability than the low back and the medical evidence doesn’t explain the connection between the work injury and the disability as compared to his other conditions. They also argued the PTD finding was premature since the employee wasn’t at MMI for his foot condition. The court found that the judge’s findings in assessing the QRC opinion, medical opinions, and employee testimony regarding the causal connection for his injury was supported by substantial evidence.

The employer and insurer also argued substantial evidence didn’t support the judge’s findings that the medical treatment was reasonable and necessary. The WCCA held that it is the role of the compensation judge to resolve conflicts in expert medical testimony, and the judge’s choice is usually upheld unless facts assumed by the expert in rendering the opinion are not supported by the evidence. Citing Nord v. City of Cook, 360 N.W.2d 337, 342-43, 37 W.C.D. 364, 372-73 (Minn. 1985).The court found that where the evidence was conflicting or more than one inference may be drawn, the findings of the compensation judge are to be upheld. Citing Redgate v. Sroga’s Standard Serv.  421 N.W.2d 729, 734, 40 W.C.D. 948, 957 (Minn. 1988).