Maria Perez v. Swift Pork Co. et al.

Maria Perez v. Swift Pork Co. et al. No. WC17-6106 (W.C.C.A. March 26, 2018).

In 2011, Maria Perez (“Employee”), a native Spanish speaker, began working for Swift Pork Co./JBS USA, LLC (“Employer”). In March 2016, Employee reported to the on-site nurse complaining of right shoulder pain caused from her job beginning on March 9, 2016. The nurse noted that Employee had full range of motion during the examination. Employee reported to the on-site nurse multiple times throughout March and April of 2016. During each visit the nurse noted full range of motion. An MRI scan in July 2016 showed a SLAP tear involving the long head of the biceps tendon, supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendinosis with mild inflammatory changes throughout the infraspinatus muscle, and moderate degenerative changes of the acromioclavicular joint.

In August 2011, Employee attended the IME. The IME doctor noted full range of motion in the right shoulder and concluded that the Employee was clinically normal, had a temporary strain, was at maximum medical improvement, and required no restrictions. Following the IME report, Employer offered Employee her pre-injury job, which she did not accept and was placed on medical leave. The Employee continued to treat her right shoulder and underwent a second MRI of the right shoulder in March 2017. The MRI showed a high-grade partial rotator cuff tear and SLAP tear. At that time, the doctor noted decreased range of motion and discussed possible surgical options with Employee.

The Employee sought payment of wage loss benefits, medical benefits, including payment for the shoulder surgery, and vocational rehabilitation benefits. The case went before the judge in May 2017 and a court-appointed interpreter was used during the hearing. After the hearing, the Employee’s attorney wrote to the Employer’s attorney expressing concern over the English and Spanish translations during the hearing but never brought the concern to the attention of the Compensation Judge.

The Compensation Judge denied benefits, adopting the IME opinion that the injury was temporary and had resolved by May 2016. The Employee appealed and obtained the opinion of a court-certified interpreter that there were a number of misinterpretations in the translations at the hearing. The Employee sought a new hearing based on the claim that the services of the court-appointed interpreter were inadequate, insufficient, and resulted in incorrectly interpreted material testimony. The Employee argued that the interpreter failed to translate that she had to work at a high level with repetitive motions, which was material. Further, the Employee argued that the IME opinion lacked foundation because the doctor based his opinion on the Employee working at waist to chest level.

The W.C.C.A. noted that the Employee made no objection nor raised any concern about the interpreter at the hearing and normally that would be a bar to raising the issue on appeal. But, the W.C.C.A recognized that that it is difficult for a witness to make such an object at a complex hearing and that Minnesota provides protections for non-English speakers to have equal access to justice. Even with the admitted misinterpretations in the translation, the Compensation Judge had the ability to observe the Employee during her testimony about the height of her work activities, and physically showed the judge how she performed her job. The W.C.C.A. recognized that the misinterpretations were material, but held that they were not dispositive.

The W.C.C.A. further noted that the mechanism of injury did not appear to be the basis for the denial but instead the Employee’s normal findings during each examination in which she sought treatment in 2016. The W.C.C.A. held that there was ample support that the Employee’s right should examination was normal up to the time she refused to return to full-duty work, substantial evidence supported the Compensation Judge’s finding that the work injury was temporary and had resolved, and affirmed the denial of benefits.