Michelle Sayler v. Bethany Home, et. al.

Michelle Sayler v. Bethany Home, et. al., No. A20-1429 (Minn. Supreme Court, June 11, 2021).

While working for the employer, a patient’s wheelchair rolled over the employee’s right great toe and right foot, suffering an admitted injury. The employee’s pain continued and she was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Her RSD progressed, eventually requiring her to use a cane and wheelchair at work.

On May 5, 1998, the employee underwent an IME by Dr. Bruce Van Dyne. He opined the employee could gradually increase her hours from four hours to full time, she reached maximum medical improvement, and she had no permanent partial disability. By September 1998, the employee had a chronic inversion of her right foot and RSD has spread to her right ankle and right knee. Dr. Michael Espeland opined an implantable stimulator was a possible alternative treatment.

The parties settled in December of 1998 for a lump sum for $27,000.00 for past, present, and future workers’ compensation benefits, less $5,000.00 in attorney’s fees, and left future medical treatment open, but closing out chiropractic treatment, future psychological treatment, pain clinic treatment, and rehabilitation. At the time of the settlement, the employee claimed 13% PPD for her RSD/CRPS condition, entitlement to TTD and TPD benefits, and that she needed a neurostimulator implant.

Following the settlement, the employee applied for and began receiving SSDI benefits. Further, she underwent eight surgeries including the neurostimulator implant. The employer and insurer paid over $278,000.00 in medical expenses. Further, the CRPS spread to the right leg, and she was assigned additional PPD for the right leg, as well as 40% for chronic anxiety and depression.  The employee then filed a petition to vacate the Award on Stipulation based on a substantial change in medical condition.

The W.C.C.A. denied the petition to vacate, based on Fodness Factors, finding that although the employee’s condition had worsened, she did not meet her burden that there was a substantial change in her condition. The other main factor was that the employer and insurer continued to pay medical benefits for her RSD.

The employee appealed this decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed without opinion.

Takeaway: Make sure all claimed injuries are clearly addressed in the stipulation, as well as the severity of an employee’s injury and current treatment.