JANICE L. SULLIVAN, Employee/Appellant, v. MENARDS, INC., and RELIANCE INS. CO., Employer-Insurer, and MN DEP=T OF LABOR & INDUS./VRU and ST. CLOUD HOSP., Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
AUGUST 2, 2002
CAUSATION - GILLETTE INJURY. Substantial evidence, including the opinion of the independent medical examiner, supports the compensation judge=s finding that the employee failed to prove a Gillette injury to her hands, wrists and arms, culminating on July 27, 1999, as a result of her work activities with the employer.
Determined by Johnson, C.J., Pederson, J. and Rykken, J.
Compensation Judge: Bernard Dinner
THOMAS L. JOHNSON, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge=s finding that the employee failed to prove a Gillette injury culminating on July 27, 1999, in the nature of bilateral tendinitis affecting the hands, wrists, and forearms. We affirm.
Janice L. Sullivan, the employee, began working as a salesperson in the millwork department of Menards, Inc., the employer, in May 1996. Her job duties included selling doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, moldings and other items in the department, preparing estimates and kitchen designs, and doing paperwork relating to sales contracts, purchase orders, invoices and the like. Sales of larger items, such as doors, windows or kitchen cabinets required carrying the items by hand or by lifting them onto a cart to shipping and receiving for delivery to customers.
The employee testified she began experiencing significant problems with her hands and wrists in about June 1999. She was seen by Dr. Watkins on July 27, 1999, complaining of hand and wrist tenderness and stating that her wrists Awent out@ especially after doing a lot of lifting. Dr. Watkins diagnosed arthralgias with mild synovitis of the wrist, and released the employee to return to work with a lifting restriction of 30 pounds. The employer accommodated the employee=s restriction, assigning work primarily in the cabinet area, paperwork, and designing kitchens and doing estimating on the computer. The employee resigned her employment, effective December 2, 1999, due to non-work-related night blindness and the employer=s inability or unwillingness to provide full-time daytime hours.
The employee was seen in follow-up by Dr. Honebrink on December 2 and December 20, 1999, reporting persistent hand and wrist pain, tenderness and swelling. Dr. Honebrink noted some tenderness and pain over the extensor tendons and radiocarpal area and discomfort into the forearms, but otherwise normal examinations of the wrist and hands. He diagnosed bilateral tenosynovitis and continued the employee=s work restrictions. On December 30, 1999, Dr. Honebrink recommended an MRI scan of the wrists to assess whether there were any structural problems, and took the employee off work. The March 21, 2000 scan showed a minimal contusion in the left wrist, and a small amount of marrow edema in the base of the ulnar styloid likely related to a mild contusion. No soft tissue abnormalities were noted, the carpal tunnel was unremarkable, the flexor and extensor tendons appeared normal and there was no evidence of tenosynovitis.
In a follow-up examination on March 23, 2000, the employee complained of continuing soreness over both wrists and into the forearms. Dr. Honebrink noted no specific tenderness on palpation along the extension and flexion tendons on examination, diagnosed chronic wrist pain, and referred the employee to Dr. Schlosser, a rehabilitation medicine specialist. Dr. Schlosser first saw the employee on April 28, 2000. The doctor noted tenderness and some weakness in the fingers and hand and tenderness over the wrists. Dr. Schlosser=s impression was a repetitive task-type injury, not completely resolved.
On May 10, 2000, the employee was examined by Dr. William Call, a hand and upper extremity surgeon, at the request of the employer and insurer. In Dr. Call=s opinion, the employee=s history, physical examination and treatment records were Aconsistent with a normal examination.@ He concluded the employee had no objectively identifiable diagnosis and had not sustained an injury associated with her work activities. (Resp. Ex. 2.) The employee returned to see Dr. Schlosser on June 28, 2000. An EMG performed on June 20, 2000 was normal. Noting the employee continued to experience recurrent hand and wrist pain associated with repetitive activity, Dr. Schlosser referred the employee for occupational and physical therapy to increase pain tolerance and improve strength in the upper extremities.
The employee continued to treat with Dr. Schlosser through January 8, 2001, at which point he referred her to Dr. Craig-Muller, a rheumatologist. Indicating it was Aunclear why she is continuing to have wrist pain,@ Dr. Schlosser requested an evaluation to rule out any inflammatory processes. On examination, Dr. Craig-Muller noted no synovitis in the wrists with good range of motion, mild pain to palpation, and mild flexor tenosynovitis in the right third finger and third and fourth fingers of the left hand. The doctor thought the employee most likely had an overuse injury with continuing flexor tendinitis in the hands. He stated, however, that he would Adefer final judgment to orthopedic hand surgeon.@ (Ee Ex. B.) Dr. Craig-Muller also questioned whether the employee had a generalized anxiety disorder.
The employee filed a claim petition on February 14, 2000, alleging a Gillette-type injury to the hands, wrists and upper extremities, and seeking temporary total disability benefits from December 30, 1999 and continuing, payment of medical expenses and rehabilitation benefits. The employer and insurer denied primary liability, contending the employee had not sustained a work-related injury. The case was heard by a compensation judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings on March 22, 2001. In a Findings and Order served and filed May 3, 2001, the compensation judge found the employee had failed to prove that she sustained a Gillette injury to the hands, wrists and arms, culminating on July 27, 1999. The pro se employee appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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). Where evidence conflicts or more than one inference may reasonably be drawn from the evidence, the findings must be affirmed. Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 60, 37 W.C.D. 235, 240 (Minn. 1984). Similarly, 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.@ Northern States Power Co. v. Lyon Food Prods., Inc., 304 Minn. 196, 201, 229 N.W.2d 521, 524 (1975).
The dispositive issue in this case is whether substantial evidence supports the compensation judge=s determination that the employee failed to prove a Gillette-type personal injury to her hands, wrists and arms. The employee contends the Findings and Order are clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the record as a whole. She points out that her treating doctors were doctors to which the employer and insurer sent her, and she questions the veracity of Dr. Call=s report and opinions. The employee recites numerous facts contrary to the judge=s findings, asserting the decision is not consistent with the evidence submitted and, therefore, not sustainable.
On appeal, however, it is not the role of this court to make our own evaluation of the probative value of the testimony or to reweigh the evidence submitted. AThe point is not whether we . . . might have viewed the evidence differently, but whether the findings of the compensation judge are supported by evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.@ Redgate v. Sroga=s Standard Service, 421 N.W.2d 729, 734, 40 W.C.D. 948, 957 (Minn.1988). Here, the compensation judge specifically adopted the opinion of Dr. Call that the employee, by history and examination, had no objectively identifiable diagnosis and had not sustained an injury as a result of her work activities for the employer. A trier of fact is not required to accept the opinions of the employee=s treating doctors over the opinion of an independent medical examiner. Where there is a conflict in the opinions of medical experts, resolution of that conflict is the responsibility of the compensation judge as the trier of fact, and the judge=s decision will not be disturbed so long as there is adequate foundation for that expert=s opinion. See Nord v. City of Cook, 360 N.W.2d 337, 37 W.C.D. 364 (Minn. 1985); Wilson v. North Star Steel, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Dec. 7, 1993).
Dr. Call took a statement from the employee describing her symptoms, medical history and treatment and her work activities at Menards, and reviewed the employee=s treatment records. Upon examination on May 10, 2000, Dr. Call reported full range of motion of the elbows and fingers, normal muscle function in the hand, and no swelling, edema or other abnormality between the joints. There was no focal tenderness to the carpus bilaterally; sensory and motor nerve function was normal. The doctor noted no swelling, warmth or redness bilaterally; no wasting weakness or atrophy; fingerprints, fingertip pulps, sweating patterns, temperature and color were normal bilaterally. In short, in Dr. Call=s opinion, the employee=s examination was normal by all objective criterion.
We acknowledge there is contrary evidence from which the compensation judge could have drawn different inferences and reached a different conclusion. However, the decision concerning the weight to be given to evidence introduced at the hearing, and whether to accept or reject an expert=s opinion is for the compensation judge, not this court. On this record we cannot say the compensation judge=s decision was clearly erroneous or manifestly contrary to the evidence, and we must, therefore, affirm.
 Gillette v. Harold, Inc., 257 Minn. 3l3,, l0l N.W.2d 200, 2l W.C.D. l05 (1960).