McGrath v. Kemps, LLC, et al

McGrath v. Kemps, LLC, et al., No. WC15-5882 (WCCA July 22, 2016)

The employee in this matter appeals the compensation judge’s decision denying a claimed Gillette injury to the employee’s right hip. The employee was a route delivery driver who sustained a work-related injury to his low back and left hip on December 5, 2005 when he pulled a release lever for a dock plate. The employer and insurer admitted liability for a temporary low back injury and a permanent left hip injury.

The employee underwent a left total hip arthroplasty by Dr. Breien on January 14, 2008. At a follow-up appointment on September 20, 2010, Dr. Breien reported stiffness and low back issues, with stiffness and limited flexion on the right.

The employee was involved in a nonwork-related motor vehicle accident in October 2012 and treated for increased left hip pain in November 2012. The ASR socket component in the employee’s left hip had been recalled and failed, which required him to undergo a revision left total hip arthroplasty on December 17, 2012 by Dr. Breien.

On February 27, 2013 the employee underwent an L3-4 left0sdied laminectomy decompression surgery as a result of the motor vehicle accident.

The employee underwent an IME on August 15, 2013 with Dr. Dworak. Dr. Dworak opined that the employee had pre-existing advance osteoarthritis of the left hip and to a lesser a degree, the right hip prior to the December 5, 2005 work injury. He stated that the work injury aggravated the pre-existing osteoarthritis of the left hip and was a substantial contributing factor of the left total hip arthroplasty, and that the revision surgery was due to the recall.

Dr. Breien treated the employee for right hip pain in December 2013. The employee stated the right hip pain was gradual and occurred while at work. Dr. Breien opined that the right hip was stiff and painful due to overuse. X-rays revealed that the employee had bone-on-bone osteoarthritis on the right.

The employee underwent a right total hip arthroplasty on January 29, 2014 with Dr. Breien. The employee was released to work with no restrictions on March 11, 2014.

Dr. Dworak performed a second IME on August 21, 2014. He restated his previous opinion that the employee was predisposed to genetic osteoarthirits, and that the right hip injury was not work-related. He also stated that the employee’s medical records do not corroborate a right hip injury beginning in 2005.

The employee filed a claim petition on May 23, 2014 listing back left hip, and consequential right hip injuries and claiming TTD benefits, attorney fees, and medical expenses related to the right hip injury. On July 17, 2015 the employee amended the claim petition to include claims for PPD benefits for both hips. At the August 27, 2015 hearing, the employee added an additional theory that he sustained a Gillette injury to his right hip. The compensation judge denied all of the employee’s claims. The employee appealed the compensation judge’s denial of the right hip Gillette injury.

On appeal, the WCCA notes that the standard of review is whether the compensation judge’s determination is supported by substantial evidence; findings of fact are to be upheld unless clearly erroneous. The employee argues the judge erroneously relied on the unsupported medical opinion of Dr. Dworak in making his determination.  The compensation judge accepted Dr. Dworak’s opinion over Dr, Breien’s or Dr. Wengler’s and noted lack of support for the employee’s claim in the medical records, and lack of specific and detailed testimony from the employee.

The WCCA states that the record establishes that Dr. Dworak’s competence to render an expert opinion. Dr. Dworak was provided with the employee’s medical records, and examined the employee before and after the January 2014 right hip surgery. Additionally, in determining whether a Gillette injury the employee must prove a causal connection between ordinary work duties and the claimed disability. This is a question of fact, however, the determination of a Gillette injury “primarily depends on medical evidence.” The compensation judge determined that Dr. Dworak’s opinion stating the employee’s right hip condition was due to his genetic predisposition of osteoarthritis rather than his work duties was the most persuasive medical opinion. The WCCA concluded that Dr. Dworak’s opinion provides substantial evidence to support the compensation judge’s findings and affirmed his denial of the employee’s right hip Gillette injury claim.