On February 4, 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the WCCA without an opinion.
In this case the employee sustained an admitted neck and back injury in 1999. In 2004, the employee sustained a non-work injury while building a backyard swing set. As a result of the 2004 injury, the employee’s fingers had to be amputated and he developed regional complex pain syndrome in his lower extremities.
In 2010, the employee filed a Claim Petition for permanent total disability benefits. At the hearing, the employer and insurer argued the 2004 event was a superseding, intervening injury. The compensation judge agreed with the employer/insurer and denied the claim for permanent total disability and that decision was not appealed.
The employee subsequently filed a Medical Request for payment of outstanding medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses. There was a formal hearing on the medical request and each side presented medical expert testimony. The judge adopted the employee’s treating physician’s opinions and determined the medical treatment was reasonable and necessary, and causally related to the 1999 work related injury.
The employer and insurer appealed, asserting the compensation judge erred in relying on the employee’s treating physician because his opinion lacked foundation. The WCCA denied the appeal and determined there was appropriate foundation since “[f]oundation may be established by personal knowledge, a hypothetical question, or testimony at the hearing.” Scott v. Southview Chevrolet, 267 N.W.2d 185, 188 (Minn. 1978). The employee’s treating doctor had treated the employee since the work injury in 1999, so he “was well aware of the employee’s condition, symptoms, and need for treatment both before and after the April 2004 injury.” Therefore, the employee’s treating physician was “uniquely qualified to speak on causation and reasonableness” and his opinion had “more than adequate foundation.” The WCCA therefore affirmed and concluded the 2004 injury did not break the causal chain between the work injury and the employee’s need for medical treatment.
Of most concern in the WCCA. holding is that it raised the issue of attorney’s fees sua sponte (on its own). The WCCA concluded the employee’s attorney may file a petition for fees with the WCCA requesting Roraff fees for legal services provided on appeal over-and-above the statutory allowance for appellate attorney fees.
This case now opens the door to significant Roraff/Irwin attorney fees claimed upon successful appeal by plaintiff counsel. Employers and Insurers will need to take this significant exposure into account when deciding to appeal to the WCCA; especially based on a substantial evidence finding by the compensation judge.