TYLER LUNDQUIST, Employee/Appellant, v. COUNTRY INN and FARMERS INS. GROUP, Employer-Insurer, and MEDICA CHOICE/HRI and MN DEP=T OF ECONOMIC SEC., Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JULY 8, 2002
EVIDENCE - CREDIBILITY. A compensation judge does not err in crediting deposition testimony over live testimony or in crediting testimony rendered in the presence of other sympathetic witnesses over testimony rendered not in the presence of other witnesses.
CAUSATION - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. Where the notice-of-injury issue addressed by the judge bore directly on the credibility of the employee=s claim that he was injured on the date of his termination for cause, where substantial evidence supported the judge=s finding that the employee=s version of events on the date of the alleged injury and termination for other cause lacked credibility, and where the employee=s own credibility appeared to directly shape other testimony and the medical histories in evidence, the compensation judge=s denial of primary liability based primarily on a finding that the employee=s testimony was not credible was not clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence.
PRACTICE & PROCEDURE - ADEQUACY OF FINDINGS. A compensation judge does not err in declining to address issues before her that are rendered moot by her decision on other issues.
Determined by Pederson, J., Rykken, J. and Johnson, C. J.
Compensation Judge: Joan G. Hallock
WILLIAM R. PEDERSON, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge's denial of primary liability for the alleged work injury. We affirm.
In early 1982, while serving as a pumpman in the Merchant Marine, Tyler Lundquist sustained an injury to his low back that was diagnosed as a herniated nucleus pulposus with probable right L5 radiculopathy and eventually treated by a hemilaminectomy and discectomy on the right at L5-S1. Mr. Lundquist=s back problems continued, and in 1984 he retired from the Merchant Marine with a Disability Retirement Annuity. In October 1985, Mr. Lundquist sustained another work injury to his low back, with symptoms again radicular and apparently stemming again from L5-S1 on the right. About three years later, Mr. Lundquist reached full, final, and complete settlement of all of his claims related to that injury except medical expenses. Eventually, beginning in December 1995, Mr. Lundquist came to work at White Bear Country Inn as a maintenance supervisor. A AManager=s Checklist for New Employees@ signed by Mr. Lundquist at that time lists A[w]hat to do in case of accident or injury@ as information to which new employees were oriented. In August of 1996, Mr. Lundquist did properly report to Country Inn an unwitnessed work-related injury to his left thumb nail, and in December of 1997 he also filled out an accident report regarding a lacerated left middle finger.
In January of 1998, Mr. Lundquist and several other supervisors at Country Inn were apparently reprimanded for unsatisfactory showings on an independent audit. On the morning of February 1, 1998, Country Inn Assistant General Manager Tammy Hillyard requested that Mr. Lundquist empty a kitchen trash barrel full of liquor bottles and later that he assist her with moving a piano in the pool room. Mr. Lundquist complied with both those requests, contesting the former on grounds that discarding of the bar=s empty liquor bottles should not be a duty of his department. Ms. Hillyard apparently indicated that she would file an appropriate complaint, but she apparently did not. Other details of Mr. Lundquist=s compliance with those requests and of his physical response to performance of the tasks are here disputed. Later that day, subsequent to those activities, Mr. Lundquist [the employee] was terminated from his employment with Country Inn [the employer] by the employer=s General Manager Julie Fuller. The employee was forty-three years old on the date of his termination and was earning a weekly wage of $511.25.
On February 9, 1998, about a week after his termination, the employee completed an application for reemployment insurance, on which he indicated that there was no reason why he could not accept full time work. In response to whether or not he had a disability, the employee checked both AYes@ and AI choose not to answer.@ Three days later, on February 12, 1998, eleven days after his termination, he saw Dr. Steven Voss with complaints of low back pain radiating into his left leg and foot. Dr. Voss=s records indicate that the employee had reported having injured his back at work on February 2 (sic), 1998, in the course of moving a piano after emptying a trash barrel. Dr. Voss diagnosed A[l]eft leg radicular type pain strongly suggestive of L5 disk herniation@ and ordered a CT scan. The scan, conducted on February 16, 1998, was read to reveal a disc bulge and moderate stenosis at the L4-5 level and, at the L5-S1 level, A[d]egenerative disc disease and vacuum disc phenomena,@ together with moderate narrowing of the left neuro-foramen but no apparent focal herniation. On that same date, February 16, 1998, Ms. Fuller issued to the employee a memorandum addressed to Awhom it may concern,@ regarding a Aletter requested for insurance purpose[s].@ The memorandum indicates that the employee was Aterminated on February 1, 1998, due to lack of leadership as a manager to complete tasks required by the company.@
On March 5, 1998, on referral from Dr. Voss, the employee was examined by neurosurgeon Dr. Max Zarling, who diagnosed a lumbar radiculopathy and ordered an MRI scan. Dr. Zarling=s accounts manager, Rose Juen, telephoned Ms. Fuller to inquire into the employee=s insurance coverage. Ms. Juen=s records indicate that she Atold [Ms. Fuller] you have a work comp injury dated 2-1-98. She knew nothing about it and said [the employee] was terminated before that,@A[s]he thought the 30th or 31st.@ The employee evidently went to the employer that same afternoon and made payment for the extension of his company health care insurance to which he was entitled. A Medica Health Plans Continuation Enrollment form in evidence signed the following day, March 6, 1998, by Ms. Hillyard, identifies January 31, 1998, as the date of the employee=s termination. On March 7, 1998, the employee commenced treatment with chiropractor Dr. Jordan Arvold, who noted that the employee was reporting that Aon 2-1-98 while moving a piano he felt a >grinding= in his low back followed by an >electrical shock= like feeling around the LB area radiating out in all directions. LB pain is slightly on the L[eft] side, radiating down into center of L[eft] foot.@
On March 9, 1998, Ms. Fuller issued a memorandum to the employer=s workers= compensation insurer, on which she indicated that the employee was terminated as of February 1, 1998, and that a clinic had called to inquire about a work-related injury to the employee on February 2, 1998. Ms. Fuller indicated in her memorandum that the employee had never registered a claim for any back injury during his employment with the employer, having not registered a first report of injury until returning to the employer=s premises on March 5, 1998. She indicated that she found it Avery strange that [the employee] would come to the [employer] over a month later and claim a[n] injury to his back, when I was here to report any injury on his last day of employment.@ The MRI ordered by Dr. Zarling was conducted on March 10, 1998, and was read to reveal in part (1) a A[l]arge left L5-S1 soft tissue [abnormality] consist[e]nt with disc herniation,@ (2) A[d]isc degenerative changes [at the] L4-5 and L5-S1 levels with loss of hydration and loss of disc height,@ (3) A[m]ild deformity at the right sided L5 lamina,@ and (4) A[p]osterior facet degenerative changes [at the] L4-5 and L5-S1 levels bilaterally.@ On March 16, 1998, Ms. Fuller completed a First Report of Injury.
Dr. Arvold eventually referred the employee to neurologist Dr. Thomas Murphy, who saw the employee on April 21, 1998. In his report on that date, Dr. Murphy reported that the employee had Adeveloped lower back and left leg pain while working@ in early February, when he had Aemptied out large trash containers [sic] and later that day had to move a piano.@ Dr. Murphy diagnosed Asignificant left-sided low back pain and left leg pain starting in early February secondary to a laterally herniated disc at L5-S1.@ Dr. Murphy prescribed medication and recommended that the employee consult with a neurosurgeon for consideration of decompression surgery. The employee saw neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel Ahlberg on April 28, 1998, who diagnosed Aa persisting acute/subacute low back and left leg pain syndrome of undetermined etiology@ and ordered a lumbar myelogram and post-myelogram CT scan. The scan, conducted May 4, 1998, confirmed an L5-S1 disc herniation, and Dr. Ahlberg recommended surgery. The employee did not, however, follow up with the surgery, and in August 1998 he apparently found work within his restrictions as a restaurant prep cook.
On September 17, 1998, the employee filed a claim petition, alleging entitlement to various medical, rehabilitation, and wage replacement benefits consequent to a work-related injury on February 1, 1998. On September 28, 1998, the employer and insurer denied the claim. On October 23, 1998, in a two-page letter signed by both Ms. Hillyard and Ms. Fuller, the employer responded to the state Department of Human Rights regarding a claim of discrimination, harassment, and unlawful termination filed by the employee. In that letter, the employer detailed what it considered good cause reasons for its termination of the employee, indicating that the employee had at no time on February 1, 1998, mentioned any back pain or injuries either during or after the trash-emptying or piano-moving activities. The employer stated that the employee=s termination had been for reasons pertaining to his Alack of performance within his position and inability to properly manage and motivate his employees,@Anot his age nor his claim of back injury@ as alleged. On December 16, 1998, the employee moved to strike his claim petition from the trial calendar, to permit himself time to find new counsel, and that motion was granted on January 7, 1999.
At the end of May 1999, the restaurant for which the employee was then working went out of business, and unemployment records indicate that, for the weeks May 29, 1999, through September 25, 1999, the employee received $3,281 in unemployment benefits, having certified bi-weekly that he was Aable, available and actively seeking full time work.@ On June 12 and July 3, 2000, the employee evidently returned for examinations with Dr. Ahlberg. On July 7, 2000, in reply to a letter from the employee=s attorney, Dr. Ahlberg indicated that the employee remained partially disabled and physically restricted due to a low back injury sustained at work on February 1, 1998. Dr. Ahlberg acknowledged that the employee had had a preexisting abnormality at S1 on the right, but it was his opinion that the employee=s subsequent disc herniation at L5-S1 on the left was Aclearly@ a result of a new injury in February 1998. On July 10, 2000, the employee refiled his claim petition.
On July 21, 2000, the employee was examined for the employer and insurer by Dr. John Dowdle. Dr. Dowdle diagnosed degenerative disc disease and a herniated nucleus pulposus on the left at L5-S1, degenerative disc disease and mechanical low back pain post lumbar laminectomy and disc excision at L5-S1 on the right, and radiculitis at S1 on the left. Noting that there were Atwo very different histories available@ as to what occurred at the employee=s place of employment on February 1, 1998, Dr. Dowdle concluded that, A[a]ssuming Mr. Lundquist=s history is correct, it would appear that he had an aggravation of his underlying degenerative disc condition of his back.@ Near the end of his report, Dr. Dowdle stated, AThere is still a question of causation as to whether these findings of back and leg pain are specifically related to activities of February 1, 1998, or whether they are a manifestation of the underlying degenerative disc condition which has been present since the early 1980's. Based on [the employee=s] history, [they are] related to February 1, 1998.@
On October 13, 2000, the employee commenced treatment with chiropractor Dr. Richard Ottomeyer. Based on the employee=s report to him that he first experienced his low back pain moving the piano at work on February 1, 1998, Dr. Ottomeyer reported to the employee=s attorney on February 16, 2001, that the employee=s ongoing complaints were Amost likely caused by the injury he sustained on or about February 1, 1998 while at work.@
On May 2, 2001, housekeeper Carol Winkler, cook Ruth Erickson, and cook Lionel Baumann, all co-employees with the employee at the employer at the time of the employee=s termination, testified by deposition on behalf of the employee. Ms. Winkler, a neighbor of the employee and a housekeeping supervisor for the employer at the time of the employee=s termination, who had since been terminated herself, testified that she was not herself at work on February 1, 1998, but that the employee had informed her the following day that he had hurt his back at work on February 1, 1998. Ms. Erickson, a cook in the kitchen at the time of the employee=s termination, testified in part that she and the employee together emptied a barrel of liquor bottles into a dumpster, but she was confused as to the date, and she indicated that the employee didn=t inform her that he had hurt his back until the following day. Mr. Baumann, another cook with the employer at the time of the employee=s termination, testified in part that he was not at work on the date of the employee=s alleged injury but that he inquired of Ms. Hillyard the following day as to the employee=s status and learned that the employee had been let go and was complaining of an injury.
On June 18, 2001, Ms. Hillyard and Ms. Fuller testified by deposition on behalf of the employer and insurer. Their testimonies both generally supported the position that the employee alleged no work injury either on February 1, 1998, or at any time after that date, to either Ms Hillyard or Ms. Fuller, until March 5, 1998, over a month later, when he returned to the employer and paid for an extension of his health coverage and registered an accident report.
The matter came on for hearing on June 20 and 21, 2001. Issues at hearing included whether the employer and insurer had primary liability for a work injury to the employee on February 1, 1998, together with various secondary issues related to benefits stemming therefrom. By findings and order filed September 17, 2001, the compensation judge concluded in part that the employee had failed to meet his burden of proving the employer and insurer=s primary liability for the injury. At Finding 5 of her decision, the compensation judge concluded as follows: ABased upon a preponderance of the evidence, employee has failed to meet his burden of proof. For reasons fully outlined in the memorandum and incorporated herein, employee=s testimony lacks credibility. The employer and insurer do not, therefore, have primary liability for the alleged February 1, 1998 low back injury.@ At Finding 6, her final finding, the judge concluded, AGiven the lack of primary liability on the part of the employer and insurer, all other issues are moot.@ On these findings the judge denied all of the employee=s claims. Although the judge=s six findings are extremely brief, her accompanying memorandum Aincorporated herein@ spans over five pages and includes a thorough recounting not only of the employee=s testimony but also of the testimony of six other witnesses and of various medical records. At the end of her memorandum, the judge enumerated, in detail, nine different bases for her conclusion that the employee lacked credibility. The employee appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing cases on appeal, the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals must determine whether Athe findings of fact and order [are] clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted.@ Minn. Stat. ' 176.421, subd. 1 (1992). Substantial evidence supports the findings if, in the context of the entire record, Athey are supported by evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.@ Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 59, 37 W.C.D. 235, 239 (Minn. 1984). Where evidence conflicts or more than one inference may reasonably be drawn from the evidence, the findings are to be affirmed. Id. at 60, 37 W.C.D. at 240. Similarly, A[f]actfindings are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.@ Northern States Power Co. v. Lyon Food Prods., Inc., 304 Minn. 196, 201, 229 N.W.2d 521, 524 (1975). Findings of fact should not be disturbed, even though the reviewing court might disagree with them, Aunless they are clearly erroneous in the sense that they are manifestly contrary to the weight of the evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole.@ Id.
As was observed by Dr. Dowdle in his report on July 21, 2000, in this case A[t]here are two very different histories available@ concerning what occurred on February 1, 1998. In his brief, the employee subdivides his arguments under four headings: (1) the credibility of the employee=s claim that he injured himself lifting the trash barrel and moving the piano on February 1, 1998; (2) the judge=s discretion to credit deposition testimony of witnesses questioned in each other=s presence over live testimony and deposition testimony of witnesses questioned out of each other=s presence; (3) the relevance of the notice dispute to Athe real issue@ of the occurrence of a work injury on February 1, 1998; and (4) the judge=s discretion, upon her finding of no primary liability, to dismiss all other issues as moot. The second and third of these subdivisions are inevitably tied back into the first--the credibility of the employee=s claim that he injured himself at work on the morning of February 1, 1998.
Credibility determinations have long been held to be the unique province of the finder of fact. See Brennan v. Joseph G. Brennan, M.D., 425 N.W.2d 837, 839-40, 41 W.C.D. 79, 82 (Minn. 1988) (assessment of a witness's credibility is the unique function of the trier of fact), citing Spillman v. Morey Fish Co., 270 N.W.2d 781, 31 W.C.D. 187 (Minn. 1978); see also Tolzmann v. McCombs-Knutson Assoc., 447 N.W.2d 196, 42 W.C.D. 421 (Minn. 1989) (the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals exceeded its reviewing authority by substituting its own view on what was essentially an issue of witness credibility, where the record otherwise supported the determination of the compensation judge that the employee failed to establish his claim of a work-related injury). Moreover, this deference to the factfinder in credibility determinations is not reserved to in-person testimony alone. As we have stated,
a credibility finding is not solely based on observation of witness demeanor. While such observation can certainly be an aid to a factfinder's determination, the actual wording of the testimony itself, its consistency, how it compares with the testimony of others, and factors such as the passage of time between the testimony and the event in question must also be considered in determining if the witness testified credibly. These factors can certainly be evident in testimony taken by deposition, and deposition testimony has frequently been the basis of factual determinations in workers' compensation matters.
Hensch v. The Cornelius Co., slip op. (W.C.C.A. Mar. 14, 1994) (emphasis in original). In this case, the testimony and other evidence submitted to the compensation judge was extensive, and the employee had more than ample opportunity to establish his own personal credibility, his own in-person testimony spanning nearly three hundred pages in the transcript of hearing. We will not reverse the judge=s conclusion on grounds that it was improper on its face for the judge to credit the deposition testimony of the employer and insurer=s witnesses over the live testimony of the employee.
Nor will we reverse the judge=s decision on grounds that that decision was focused too exclusively on facts surrounding whether or not the employee gave timely notice of his injury to his employer. The issue of notice that is here material is not that of statutory notice of injury, the underlying policy of which is to ensure that an employer has ample opportunity to investigate the claim and to mitigate medical treatment expenses. See Wirrer v. Bostrom Sheet Metal Works, Inc., slip op. (W.C.C.A. Apr. 20, 2001), citing Kling v. St. Barnabas Hosp., 291 Minn. 257, 261, 190 N.W.2d 674, 677, 26 W.C.D. 53, 56 (1971). The notice issue that is here material is the issue relating directly to the credibility of the employee=s claim to having been injured: Was the employee sufficiently injured at work on February 1, 1998, to have felt compelled to report his injury to his superiors in a timely manner, in light of his familiarity with injury reporting procedures and his experience in applying them? To the extent that the issue of notice of the employee=s injury bears in this way not on the statutory propriety of his claim but on the credibility of the claimed injury itself, we will not reverse the judge=s conclusion on grounds that the judge=s attention to the notice issue distracted her from Athe real issue@ of whether or not the employee sustained a compensable work injury on the date alleged.
As suggested above, Finding 5 of the compensation judge=s decision implies that the judge=s denial of primary liability in this case was based most importantly on a conclusion that the employee=s version of events at work on February 1, 1998, was not credible. In her memorandum, the judge reviews in detail the testimony and medical records in evidence, and she concludes her discussion by listing nine reasons for her finding that the employee lacks credibility. Concisely stated, these are as follows: (1) the counter-testimony of Ms. Fuller and Ms. Hillyard, supported by Ms. Fuller=s memo of March 9, 1998; (2) the fact that the employee waited eleven days to seek medical treatment for what he described as a severely painful injury; (3) the employee=s history of a preexisting injury at L5-S1 in 1982 and another low back injury in 1985; (4) the fact that the work injury was alleged to have happened at the very time that the employee might have anticipated termination for poor job performance; (5) the uncertainty of the corroborating testimony of Ms. Erickson and her express testimony that she, contrary to the employee=s express testimony, assisted the employee in emptying the trash barrel; (6) the questionable credibility of the corroborating testimony of Ms. Winkler, who was not at work on the date in question, who could herself have reported the injury, and who was herself later fired; (7) the fact that corroborating witness Mr. Baumann had no direct knowledge of the alleged incidents; (8) the fact that the employee did not fill out an accident report on his own injury, although, as a manager, he was knowledgeable and experienced in the procedure; and (9) the fact that, in his application for unemployment benefits immediately subsequent to his termination, the employee indicated that he was ready, willing, and able to work. We conclude that, while there might well be substantial evidence also to support a contrary result, these considerations enumerated by the judge constitute substantial evidence to support the decision reached by the judge.
Regarding the judge=s reasons 1, 6, and 7, the employee argues that the compensation judge erred in accepting the testimony of Ms. Hillyard and Ms. Fuller Awithout even considering the testimony of [the employee=s] three co-employees that Tammy Hillyard had knowledge of Employee=s work injury.@ In so contending, the employee acknowledges the judge=s express commentary on the rejected testimony in reasons 5, 6, and 7, but he evidently finds that commentary lacking in detail. We have considered carefully the employee=s detailed scrutiny of the Ainconsistencies@ that he identifies in the testimony at issue, and we conclude that, while a contrary conclusion might well have been reached, the conclusion reached by the judge remains nevertheless supported by substantial evidence and was not rendered unreasonable by the employee=s arguments. A compensation judge is not required to refer to or discuss every piece of evidence introduced at the hearing, Regan v. VOA Nat=l Housing, 61 W.C.D. 142, 149 (W.C.C.A. 2000) (citations omitted), and evidence is available to rebut the employee=s arguments regarding the testimony at issue.
Regarding reason 2, the employee argues that the employee, according to his testimony, waited eleven days to seek medical attention because Ahe felt he could go home, relax, stretch, put on ice packs and get better@ and that delay for such a reason was reasonable. Testimony to this effect, however, could also quite reasonably be found by the compensation judge to weigh in favor of the employer and insurer=s position, that no compensable injury was evident on February 1, 1998. Regarding reason 3, the employee argues that the employee=s acknowledgment of his past low back injuries only supports his credibility and confirms his vulnerability to new injury. It would also have been reasonable for the judge, however, to see that same vulnerability as being present both before the employee=s termination and for the eleven days between that termination and the employee=s first medical consultation; that is, that very vulnerability renders less compelling the conclusion that there was an injury at work on the date alleged contrary to the testimony of supervisors. With regard to reason 4, we acknowledge that the judge=s statement is somewhat ambiguous, but we believe that the employee has missed the point of it in focusing on the specific date and predictability of the employee=s intended termination. It appears to us that the judge was primarily noting the irony of the employee=s allegation of injury on the very date on which he was ultimately terminated by the employer for apparently good cause. The coincidence is certainly not dispositive, but it does render the employee=s claim somewhat suspicious.
In his address of the judge=s reason 5, the employee does not attempt to rebut the judge=s conclusion that Ms. Erickson was confused in her testimony as to the sequence of events, arguing only that, A[i]f the Court had really analyzed@ that testimony she would have had to conclude that the employee emptied the trash barrel on February 1, 1998, and then returned to inform Ms. Erickson that he had hurt his back. Aside from the fact that confused evidence is reasonably not as probative as clearer evidence, we find it important to note that the employee does not actually address the judge=s concern that Ms. Erickson=s express assertion that she helped the employee to lift the barrel at the time of his alleged injury is in direct contradiction to the employee=s testimony. Inconsistency on that critical activity argues poorly in support of the credibility of the employee=s testimony.
Regarding the judge=s reason 8, the employee makes much of the fact that the employee was only a Asupervisor@ rather than a Amanager,@ as the judge identified him in reason 8, and as such was unaccustomed to generating accident reports or First Reports of Injury, contrary to the judge=s suggestion. The employee=s argument does not effectively rebut the judge=s essential premise, however, that the employee was in a position to direct injured workers in properly reporting their work injuries and had so directed himself with regard to his own past injuries. The employee also repeatedly asserts that it is uncontested that the employee did duly register a Acomplaint@ with Ms. Hillyard regarding the barrel-dumping incident. With each assertion, however, the employee conspicuously avoids the fact that the only such complaint that is conceded by the employer and insurer is a complaint about departmental responsibility for the liquor bottles in the barrel at issue; there is no concession that the employee=s complaint constituted or contained a report of any injury.
At reason 9 in her memorandum, the compensation judge indicated that the employee=s credibility was undermined by the fact that he filed for unemployment benefits immediately after his termination, indicating on his application that he was ready, willing, and able to work. The employee argues that A[n]owhere in her memorandum does [the judge] record the important fact that Manager Julie Fuller agreed that she told the Employee to file for Unemployment Benefits . . . and that the Employer would not fight his unemployment claim even though he had just been fired@ (emphasis added). He argues that, when he first applied for unemployment, he did not consider himself totally disabled and that Ahe expected to be able to go back to work in a few days.@ It would not have been unreasonable for the compensation judge to weigh such an expectation in favor of the employer and insurer, in light of the employee=s claim that it was initially difficult for him even to straighten up immediately after his alleged work injury.
We conclude that the nine reasons enumerated by the judge near the end of her memorandum constitute reasonable bases for her conclusion that the employee=s version of events at work on February 1, 1998, was not credible, particularly in light of the employee=s very ample opportunity to establish his credibility in person before the judge. In that so much of the evidence presented to the compensation judge, including the medical records of several physicians and the testimony of several witnesses, was importantly shaped by the employee=s version of events, it was also not unreasonable for the judge to conclude, on essentially a credibility basis, that the employee did not prove his entitlement to benefits consequent to the injury alleged. Therefore we affirm the judge=s finding as to primary liability. See Hengemuhle, 358 N.W.2d at 59, 37 W.C.D. at 239.
2. Decision Not to Address Moot Issues
Near the beginning of her decision, the compensation judge listed nine issues for determination, the first one being whether the employer and insurer had primary liability for a work injury to the employee=s low back on February 1, 1998. Subsequently, afer resolving that issue in the negative, the judge simply concluded in Finding 6 that Aall other issues are moot.@ The employee contends that the judge erred in not addressing the remaining issues, arguing that, should the judge=s denial of primary liability be reversed on appeal, the matter will have to be remanded to the judge for findings on the remaining issues and A[t]he Worker=s Compensation system is not very well served through such protracted and costly litigation.@ We do not agree. Minnesota Statutes ' 176.371 requires that A[a]ll questions of fact and law submitted to a compensation judge at the hearing shall be disposed of,@ and in this case the judge=s finding on the issue of primary liability does properly Adispose of@ all other issues before the judge. See Zerwas v. St. Paul Structural Steel Co., slip op. (W.C.C.A. Jan. 28, 1994). The judge=s refraining from addressing the issues rendered moot by her finding on primary liability resulted in no prejudice to any party, and determination of those moot issues would have done nothing to change the ultimate outcome of the case; under these facts, we conclude that the judge did not err in declining to more fully address the moot issues. See Turcotte v. Detroit Marine, Inc., 59 W.C.D. 133 (W.C.C.A. 1999), and Heckard v. Minneapolis Metrodome Hilton, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Aug. 10, 1993).
 The employee amended this claim petition on August 7, 2000, to update his wage replacement claims, to reserve a claim for permanent partial disability benefits, and to assert a specific weekly wage.
 The transcript of Ms. Hillyard=s deposition indicates that Ms. Fuller was present. There is no indication in the transcript of Ms. Fuller=s deposition that Ms. Hillyard was present.
 The employee asserts that Ms. Erickson, Ms. Winkler, and Mr. Baumann were deposed separately, out of each other=s presence.