Williams v. Minn. Vikings Football Club and Gallagher Bassett Servs., et al

Williams v. Minn. Vikings Football Club and Gallagher Bassett Servs., et al., No. WC16-5924 (W.C.C.A. July 12, 2016)

Employer and insurers appealed the compensation judge’s conclusion that the injuries sustained by the employee when he played professional football for the employer were substantial contributing causes of employee’s disability.  The standard of appeal was whether substantial evidence, based on medical opinions, employee testimony, and medical records, supports the compensation judge’s conclusion.

Employee was hired by Employer in March 2008 and played through the 2010 season.  In 2011, he played for the San Francisco 49ers.  In 2012, he played for Washington, which was his final year.

This case involved primarily five injuries:  August 11, 2008 neck injury sustained from a head on collision during a practice, resulting in a C5 laminar fracture; October 4, 2008 right knee injury which ultimately lead to surgery in 2009 sustained from a direct fall on the knee; November 12, 2008 left shoulder injury from practice which was diagnosed as a Grade II acromioclavicular separation; September 20, 2009 right shoulder injury which an MRI scan indicated a labral tear; and December 21, 2010 concussion.

Employer and insurers claimed the injuries in question were preexisting, that the employer was not a substantial contributing cause, and that the court erred awarding temporary total disability when employee failed to present evidence of diligent job searching.

Employer and insurer’s argument was substantially based on Dr. Park’s evaluation, which revealed the cervical injury, right knee injury, and left shoulder injury was attributable to preexisting degenerative arthritis. Dr. Park found 5% permanent partial disability with regards to the right shoulder from the September 20, 2009 injury.  The concussion was not evaluated.

However, employee was then seen by Dr. Franchetti who concluded that the injuries sustained to the cervical spine, right knee, left shoulder, and right shoulder continued to be factors in the employee’s condition and the injuries resulted in impairments that rated to permanent partial disability.

The WCCA, citing to Nord v. City of Cook, 360 N.W.2d 337, 37 W.C.D. 364 (Minn. 1985), stated the choice between two “well founded medical opinions is uniquely within the province of the compensation judge.”  Additionally, citing to Pelowski v. K-Mart Corp., 627 N.W.2d 89, 92, 63 W.C.D. 276, 281 (Minn. 2001), if a reasonable mind might accept evidence as adequate to support a determination, substantial evidence is satisfied.

The WCCA affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s conclusion that the employer was a substantial cause to employees injuries reasoning employee listed 51 injuries during the two years of employment with employer, the employee had to endure extreme measures before each game with later employers, and upon favoring of Dr. Franchetti’s evaluation over Dr. Park.

The WCCA did not hear the employer and insurer’s argument with regards to awarding temporary total disability due to employee’s failure to engage in diligent job searching because the issue was not raised at the hearing, during opening statements, nor during closing arguments.