Romens v. Ballet of the Dolls, Inc.,

Romens v. Ballet of the Dolls, Inc., WCCA No. WC16-5952 (January 9, 2017)

The Employee, Michael Romens, was the managing director at the Ballet of the Dolls.  Due to the recession, the theater was having trouble raising sufficient revenue for operation.  The theater had to make significant staffing cuts, the remaining managers had to take on a multitude of work duties, and work long hours.  After six to eight months of this, on March 10, 2011, the Employee was cleaning a bathroom when co-workers heard him fall and experience a seizure.  He experienced a second seizure in the presence of emergency medical technicians and was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.  After his stay, he returned to his duties with the Employer.

The Employee clamed three additional work related seizures on July 6, 2012, December 10, 2012, and March 15, 2013.  On December 10, 2012, he was removed from the managing director’s position and was unable to work until February 2013, when he returned on a part-time basis.  The Employee has been unable to work since March 15, 2013.

The Employee’s treating neurologist, Dr. Miguel E. Fiol, was aware of his previous history of a seizure in 1979 when he had an arterial venous malformation (“AVM”) rupture and excision.  Dr. Fiol opined that the Employee’s job stresses were a substantial contributing cause of his seizures beginning in March 2011 and was totally disabled and unable to carry out work-related activities.

The Employer and Insurer then acquired an Independent Medical Examination of the Employee by Dr. Ansar Ahmed.  Dr. Ahmed agreed with the total disability but did not agree with the causation opinion.  Dr. Ahmed concluded that Employee’s seizure disorder was due to the 1979 AVM rupture and excision.  The Employee also had other contributing stress factors including relationship problems, alcohol abuse, poor sleep, and non-compliance with medications.

At hearing, the Compensation Judge found the employee sustained a work-related injury on March 10, 2011 but found the Employee failed to prove he sustained the separate injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment.

The Employer and Insurer appealed the Compensation Judge’s finding that the Employee experienced unusual and extraordinary job stress arising out of his Employer.  The Employee cross-appealed the denial of the work-related injuries on July 6, 2012, December 10, 2012, and March 15, 2013.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals noted that cases involving mental or emotional stress are divided into three categories:

  • Cases in which mental stress produces physical injury
  • Cases in which physical injury produces mental injury
  • Cases in which mental stress produces mental injury

The first two categories are compensable.  There is a two-step test for determining causation of stress-induced injuries:

  • Whether there is sufficient factual evidence to support a finding of legal causation under the act.
  • Whether there is sufficient medical evidence to support the conclusion that the mental stress and strain were medically related to the seizure.

Additionally, legal causation is analyzed whether the stress experience by the employee was beyond that of his immediate fellow officers RATHER than whether it was beyond the ordinary day to day stress of all persons employed.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed the Compensation Judge’s holding and concluded the Employee submitted substantial evidence the he experienced unusual and extraordinary levels of job stress.  The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals also affirmed the Compensation Judge’s holding that the Employee failed to prove he sustained the other three separate injuries because of a lack of evidence to support these claims.