Thao v. Synovis Life Techs., Inc

Thao v. Synovis Life Techs., Inc., No. WC16-5928 (W.C.C.A. September 2, 2016)

The employee appealed the compensation judges’ findings that Employee’s medical treatment for chronic tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome was not causally related to the employee’s January 1, 2008 work injury.  The W.C.C.A. concluded that the compensation judge’s decision was not reasonable supported by the evidence and reversed.  It reasoning where the treating physician’s opinion has proper foundation and the employee’s medical records lack any contradictions, the compensation judge cannot disregard the treating physician’s opinion.

Employee began working for Employer in the mid-1980’s, performing a range of duties.  One of these duties included working with artificially-raised animal embryos, which required repeatedly cutting umbilical cords.  Employee developed bilateral upper extremity pain in 2004.  EMG results were consistent with mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.  Employee underwent bilateral carpal tunnel release surgery July 2008 for left and January 2009 for right.  On July 1, 2009, Employee was seen for bilateral shoulder pain.  MRI showed SLAP lesion on left and bilateral tendinopathy.

On February 1, 2010, Dr. Koch found that Employee was at MMI for her carpal tunnel condition and rated a 3% PPD.  On June 10, 2010, Employee had an IME conducted by Dr. Cederberg, where Employee was diagnosed with idiopathic bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome post carpal tunnel releases.  Dr. Cederberg also found Employee at MMI for the bilateral carpal tunnel with no permanency.  A culmination date of January 1, 2008 was established for a stipulated Gillette-type work injury.  The parties settled on full, final, and complete basis, leaving open only medical expenses for the January 1, 2008 injury.

In May of 2011, Employee was examined for noted pain and swelling in Employee’s right proximal index finger, left proximal thumb, and left wrist pain.  A chart note from Dr. Koch describes these complaints as “two new problems.”  The Employee underwent treatment for the wrist, hand, and finger pain from November 2, 2011, onward.  On January 14, 2016, Dr. Koch conducted a narrative report opining Employee’s chronic tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome were the result of the employee’s work activities.  Employee filed a Medical Request, where a Request for Formal Hearing was made and heard.  The compensation judge found that the medical treatment was not causally related to the admitted work injury.

The employer and insurer first argued that the compensation judge’s reason for rejecting the opinion of Dr. Koch was a lack of foundation.  The W.C.C.A., however, found that the contention for rejecting on lack of foundation was incorrect and there was adequate foundation for Dr. Kock’s opinion.  The W.C.C.A. next stated that employer and insurer did not submit any medical evidence to dispute Employee’s claim.  The court agrees with Employee that the compensation judge may not ignore or disregard uncontroverted medical opinion.  Furthermore, there was nothing in the employee’s medical records that “affirmatively states that the employee’s right trigger finger syndrome or left DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis are not caused by the employee’ January 1, 2008 work injury.

The W.C.C.A. concludes that a medical professional could have examined the employee, reviewed medical records, and arrived at the employer and insurer’s argument.  However, no such exam took place.  The court held that the compensation judge’s decision was not supported by the evidence as a whole and was reversed.