Morin v. Electric Mach. Co., Inc., WCCA No. WC13-5605 (January 21, 2014)
Employee appealed the compensation judge’s findings that her continued condition was not related to the work injury, per IME opinion. The WCCA rejected the employee’s argument and affirmed the compensation judge under Hengemuhle.
The employee injured herself on October 2, 1989, while lifting a large electric coil. She had immediate onset of low back pain and immediately began medical treatment. A L5-S1 lumbar fusion was performed on October 23, 1991. Shortly after the fusion the employee did have improvement in her subjective complaints. However, severe low back pain returned in 1992. Over the years the employee continued to treat for her low back intermittently with a chronic diagnosis of degenerative disc disease post-lumbar fusion, and obesity.
The employee began a new round of low back treatment on April 28, 2011, receiving muscle relaxants and narcotics. A repeat CT scan was taken on October 11, 2012, showing solid fusion and broad based disc bulging and severe facet degeneration bilaterally at L4-5.
The employee was examined by Dr. Gary Wyard at the request of the employer and insurer shortly thereafter. Dr. Wyard opined that the employee’s low back pain was unrelated to the employee’s 1989 work-related injury. Dr. Wyard explained that by all objective accounts the 1991 lumbar fusion was a success. In addition, the over 20 of history since that time was punctuated by long intervals of time without medical treatment for her low back. Finally, the doctor believed that the employee’s complaints were out-of-proportion to her objective findings. The employee’s treating physician provided a letter report opining that the employee’s work injury was a substantial contributing factor to her ongoing lumbar complaints.
At hearing, the compensation judge ruled that while the medical care provided to the employee was reasonable and necessary, the employee failed to establish causation. The employee appealed.
The WCCA established that Dr. Wyard had foundation for his opinion, including an exam and medical records. Then the Court observed that the compensation judge’s findings weighed the credibility of opposing medical experts. WCCA ruled that the compensation judge’s opinion was owed deference under Hengemuhle and affirmed.