DAVID JACKSON, Employee, v. POLARIS INDUS., SELF-INSURED, Employer/Appellant, and ST. PAUL/MIDWEST RADIOLOGY, MN DEP=T OF ECON. SEC., HEALTHPARTNERS, and PDR MIDWAY, Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
APRIL 21, 2004
TEMPORARY BENEFITS - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; CAUSATION - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE; CAUSATION - MEDICAL EXPENSES; PRACTICE & PROCEDURE - REMAND. Where the court could not resolve a material inconsistency between two of the judge=s findings, and where the judge=s findings did not contain a sufficient statement of the facts to form a basis for the award of temporary total disability benefits, the court vacated the judge=s findings and order and remanded the matter for redetermination.
Vacated and remanded.
Determined by Pederson, J., Rykken, J., and Stofferahn, J.
Compensation Judge: Gary M. Hall.
Attorneys: Timothy J. Pramas, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt, P.A., St. Paul, Mn, for Appellants. Norbert Cuellar, Cuellar Law Office, Minneapolis, MN, for Respondent.
WILLIAM R. PEDERSON, Judge
The self-insured employer appeals from the compensation judge=s award of wage loss and medical benefits allegedly related to the employee=s admitted work injury of January 14, 2002. We vacate and remand for redetermination.
On January 14, 2002, David Jackson [the employee] was employed as Facilities Manager for Polaris Industries [Polaris] at its facility in Medina, Minnesota. On that date, the employee was using a company vehicle to plow snow in the employer=s parking lot when the plow struck an unseen object, causing the employee to bump his head against the windshield of the vehicle. The employee was forty-seven years old at the time and was earning a weekly wage sufficient to entitle him to the maximum compensation rate in effect on January 14, 2002.
On the date of his injury, the employee sought medical attention with Dr. John Harapat at the Allina Medical Clinic. The employee provided a history of the incident with the snowplow, including Ahaving a strain over the left portion of the neck as well as bumping his head.@ Dr. Harapat noted that the employee was in mild distress because of neck discomfort, with a slight abrasion over the right forehead. X-rays of the cervical spine showed no acute changes, and Dr. Harapat diagnosed minor closed head trauma and a left-side cervical strain. The employee was advised to A[a]void over shoulder work or prolonged work with left arm extended,@ given anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, and told to return in one week, the employee was not taken off work at that time.
The employee returned to see Dr. Harapat on January 21, 2002, reporting that he was pain-free. The doctor=s impression was A[c]losed head trauma and left cervical strain--resolved.@ Dr. Harapat noted that the employee was at maximum medical improvement, with no permanent partial disability or need for further treatment. He concluded that the employee could return to his previous job without restrictions. The employee did not miss any time from work in January 2002 as a result of his work injury.
Over the next month or so, the employee sought medical attention for unrelated medical complaints but did not complain of any neck discomfort or head injury. The employee continued to work for Polaris through July 25, 2002, on which date he voluntarily resigned for reasons unrelated to the work injury of January 14, 2002. The employee had not sought treatment for his head and neck since his release from care on January 21, 2002.
The employee resumed treatment for neck and shoulder complaints, on October 24, 2002, with no history of intervening injuries. Treatment with various doctors continued into April 2003, and the employee was apparently unemployed between July 26, 2002, and April 1, 2003.
On February 6, 2003, the employee filed a claim petition, seeking temporary total disability benefits continuing from July 26, 2002, as well as medical benefits allegedly related to his work injury of January 14, 2002. Polaris admitted to a temporary cervical strain and minor head injury on January 14, 2002, but denied liability for the benefits claimed, affirmatively alleging that the employee had been released to return to work without restrictions or need for further medical care on January 21, 2002.
The employee=s claim petition came on for hearing before a compensation judge on July 8, 2003. The compensation judge framed the issues as follows: 1) whether the January 14, 2002, work injury was a substantial contributing factor in the employee=s claimed wage loss and need for medical treatment through April 29, 2003; and 2) whether the employee=s job search efforts were adequate to entitle him to temporary total disability benefits during the period claimed. In a findings and order issued September 4, 2003, the judge concluded that the January 14, 2002, work injury was Aa substantial contributing factor in causing the employee=s wage loss and his need for medical treatment through April 29, 2003,@ and he ordered payment of the Aemployee=s claim.@ Polaris appeals.
In his decision of September 4, 2003, the compensation judge stated at Findings 1 and 2, respectively, that A[t]he admitted January 14, 2002 work injury is a substantial contributing factor in causing the employee=s wage loss and his need for medical treatment through April 29, 2003,@ and A[t]he employee=s cervical strain resolved by January 21, 2002 without ongoing restrictions related to that injury.@ Notwithstanding the obvious inconsistency between Findings 1 and 2, the judge explained at Findings 3, 4, and 5 that he accepted the employee=s testimony and the opinion of the employee=s family doctor regarding causation for the employee=s cervical problems. The judge=s findings do not, however, indicate the material facts upon which he found the employee entitled to temporary total disability benefits. Nor does the judge=s decision set forth the specific time period for which disability benefits were awarded.
In Burrichter v. Unipatch Medical Supplies, slip op (W.C.C.A. May 10, 2002), this court stated,
As a general rule, a compensation judge is not required to refer to or discuss in the findings and order every piece of evidence introduced at the hearing. Regan v. VOA Nat=l Housing, 61 W.C.D. 142 (W.C.C.A. 2000). However, the compensation judge must scrupulously assure that the findings of fact are detailed, specific and sufficient to enable meaningful review. Northwest Publications, Inc. v. Anderson, 259 N.W.2d 254 (Minn. 1997). Further, findings of fact should include as many of the subsidiary facts as are necessary to disclose to the appellate court the basis upon which the compensation judge reached the ultimate conclusions. Woodrich Constr. Co. v. State, 177 N.W.2d 563 (1970). In making factual findings, the compensation judge must weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, decide contested matters, rely on stipulated or undisputed facts and draw appropriate inferences.
In the instant case, the findings of fact do not support the conclusion that the claimed wage loss and medical benefits are causally related to the admitted injury of January 14, 2002. Even if we could overlook finding 2 and conclude that the judge intended to find a causal connection between the employee=s injury and his claim for benefits, we could not determine the basis upon which the judge awarded temporary total disability benefits or, for that matter, the period for which benefits were awarded.
Because we cannot resolve the inconsistency between Findings 1 and 2, and because the findings do not contain a sufficient statement of the facts to form a basis for the award of temporary total disability benefits, we vacate the findings and order and remand the matter for redetermination consistent with this opinion.