RICHARD LEGATO, Employee/Appellant, v. METROPOLITAN WASTE CONTROL COMM=N and EMPLOYERS INS. OF WAUSAU, Employer-Insurer, and SPECIAL COMPENSATION FUND.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
APRIL 17, 2003
CAUSATION - SUBSTANTIAL CONTRIBUTING CAUSE. Substantial evidence, including expert opinion, supported the compensation judge=s decision that the employee=s cervical injury was merely temporary and did not cause, aggravate, or accelerate the employee=s current cervical condition.
Determined by Wilson, J., Rykken, J., and Pederson, J.
Compensation Judge: Jeanne E. Knight
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge=s decision that the employee=s March 1992 cervical injury was merely temporary. We affirm.
The employee allegedly sustained work-related low back injuries in 1984 and 1988 while employed by Metropolitan Waste Control Commission [the employer]. Medical records reflect treatment or evaluation by several physicians for continuing low back and leg symptoms; diagnostic tests eventually disclosed degenerative changes in the employee=s lumbar spine.
On March 21, 1992, the employee allegedly injured his cervical spine at work when he leaned back in a broken chair, falling backward and striking his shoulder, back, and neck. He was seen that same day by Dr. Craig Humphries, who diagnosed Aneck strain and minor head injury with arm abrasion.@ There is no indication in the employee=s medical records that he sought any follow up care for his neck condition after this initial consultation, and treatment records relative to the employee=s continuing low back complaints contain almost no references to additional neck symptoms until early 1998, six years later.
According to a February 18, 1998, treatment note by Dr. Joseph Perra, the employee reported having Aovercompensat[ed] [for his low back problems] with his arms and neck strength until several months ago when this also became very problematic.@ X-rays revealed degenerative changes at C5-6 and C6-7 with osteophytes, and Dr. Perra diagnosed Achronic low back pain and becoming chronic neck pain.@ A subsequent cervical MRI was read as showing ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament [OPLL] from C2 to C7, with compression at C4-5, C5-6, and C6-7. Some later medical records indicate that the employee reported having first noticed upper back and upper extremity pain after an incident in which he struck his head when his chair fell backwards at work in 1995 or 1996.
The employee left his job with the employer in June of 1998 and eventually claimed entitlement to various benefits, including permanent partial and permanent total disability benefits, as a result of the alleged 1984 and 1988 low back injuries and the alleged 1992 cervical injury. Just prior to hearing on the matter, the parties agreed to settle all claims, except medical expense claims relating to the employee=s cervical condition, on a full, final, and complete basis. The issues remaining for resolution by the judge were whether the employee had sustained a cervical injury on March 21, 1992, as claimed, whether the employee=s claim for that injury was barred by the statute of limitations and/or his failure to give notice of injury, and whether the claimed cervical injury was temporary or permanent.
In a decision issued on November 8, 2002, the compensation judge determined that the employee had sustained a cervical injury on March 21, 1992, as claimed, and that the employee=s claim for the cervical injury was not barred by the statute of limitations or provisions concerning notice of injury. However, the judge also determined that the injury was merely temporary, and she therefore denied the employee=s claim for medical expense benefits related to his cervical condition. 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.
The employee contends that substantial evidence does not support the judge=s decision that his March 1992 injury was merely temporary and that his OPLL condition is not causally related to the injury. In connection with this argument, the employee contends in part that the judge erred in finding, in Finding 13, that A[n]o medical evidence was presented to support the employee=s claim that the work injury caused, aggravated or accelerated development of the OPLL.@ We acknowledge that Dr. John Knutson=s February 7, 2000, report of work ability indicates that the employee=s OPLL is work-related, in that Dr. Knutson checked a box to that effect on that form. Other reports of work ability by Dr. Knutson are similarly marked. However, in his narrative reports, Dr. Knutson offered no opinion as to causation of the employee=s OPLL, other than to note that the employee Ahad the injury in 1995 [sic] when he fell off the chair and struck the back of his head. Apparently that was the onset of his neck symptoms.@ In fact, we find no narrative reports whatsoever specifically tying the employee=s OPLL to his 1992 work injury.
The record as a whole easily supports the judge=s decision that the employee=s 1992 cervical injury was merely temporary. While the employee suggested in his testimony that he continued to experience neck symptoms at least periodically after the 1992 work incident, he never followed up after his initial examination on the date of injury, and we could find only two references to neck pain in medical records from March 22, 1992, the day after the injury, until early 1998, nearly six years later, despite the employee=s continuing treatment for low back and leg symptoms. Even on February 11, 1998, when complaining of pain in his arms Aover the last 10 days or so,@ the employee apparently told his physician that he had experienced neck pain when weight lifting but that the pain had gone away when he stopped bench pressing, that he currently had no neck pain, that he did Anot recall an injury,@ and that he had Ano history of neck injury.@ Then, later that month, the employee apparently informed doctors of his earlier cervical work injury, but dated it as occurring in 1995 or 1996 and indicated that he had experienced neck and upper extremity symptoms ever since, a history not supported by any earlier treatment records. Finally, Dr. Paul Wicklund specifically indicated that the employee=s OPLL was age-related and not causally related to the work incident in 1992. While the employee submitted a short paragraph from a Japanese study tying minor neck trauma to OPLL, none of the medical providers or experts in this case discussed the conclusions of that study or the theory behind them.
Given the initial diagnosis of cervical strain, the employee=s failure to seek any follow up treatment for the injury, the almost complete absence of medical records indicating continuing neck symptoms in the six-year period after the work injury, and Dr. Wicklund=s opinion that the employee=s OPLL is not causally related to the work injury, substantial evidence clearly supports the compensation judge=s decision that the employee=s 1992 work injury was merely temporary and did not cause, aggravate, or accelerate the employee=s current cervical condition. We therefore affirm the judge=s decision in its entirety.
 A stipulation for settlement was later filed on December 2, 2002, and an award on stipulation was issued on December 4, 2002.
 We note here that the file copy of the compensation judge=s decision is incomplete, ending in the middle of what appears to be the last sentence of the judge=s memorandum. Because the judge=s findings are clear, and her reasoning is clearly ascertainable from the remainder of her memorandum, we see no need to remand the matter for amended findings and order.
 But with the date of injury specified as December 21, 1984, the date of one of the employee=s claimed low back injuries.
 In August of 1995, the employee mentioned neck and foot pain in a consultation dealing with depression. Also in August of 1995, the employee mentioned facial tenderness during a routine physical examination, which led the examining physician to suggest a referral to ENT if the employee continued having problems with Ahis neck or facial pain.@