ABDIBARRE AHMED, Employee/Appellant, v. BUDGET CAR RENTAL, and CNA INS. CO., Employer-Insurer, and WILLIAM J. FORD, M.D., NORAN NEUROLOGICAL CLINIC, CENTRAL MED. CLINIC, SPINE IMAGING MRI, and SHELTON CHIROPRACTIC, Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
SEPTEMBER 22, 2005
CAUSATION - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. Substantial evidence supported the compensation judge=s decision that the employee did not sustain a work injury as claimed.
Determined by: Wilson, J., Pederson, J., Johnson, C.J.
Compensation Judge: Janice M. Culnane
Attorneys: Abdibarre Ahmed, Minneapolis, MN, pro se Appellant. Janet Monson and Radd Kulseth, Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
DEBRA A WILSON, Judge
The pro se employee appeals from the judge=s finding that the employee did not sustain a work-related low back injury. We affirm.
The employee began working for Budget Car Rental [the employer] at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in September of 1999, as a driver. In 2002, the employee transferred to the position of cleaner, which involved cleaning, vacuuming, and washing rental cars and performing some paperwork.
The employee contends that on February 29, 2004, as he was vacuuming a car, he slipped on the wet floor, tripped on the vacuum cord, and fell backwards onto his back. The employee further contends that three coworkers helped him to his feet, that his supervisor, Mike Dyer, was called to the scene and told of the injury, and that Mr. Dyer merely smiled and left. The employee continued working and, later in the day, he was called into Mr. Dyer=s office and suspended pending further investigation into inconsistencies on car logs that he had completed. Four days later, the employee was terminated.
The employee retained attorney Marcus Jarvis to represent him in this workers= compensation matter on February 29, 2004. A claim petition was served on March 23, 2004, alleging an injury date of February 29, 2004, but making no claim for any specific disability benefits.
The employee apparently first sought medical treatment for the alleged injury, from Dr. Alfonso Morales, on March 25, 2004. On April 12, 2004, cervical and lumbar MRIs were performed, revealing degenerative discs at C5-6 and L4-5. The employee treated with a chiropractor, Dr. Shelton, from May 19, 2004, through at least August 2, 2004.
A First Report of Injury was completed by the employer on April 28, 2004, indicating that the employer had received notice of the injury on April 13, 2004.
The claim petition proceeded to hearing on August 25, 2004, and was continued for a second day of hearing on September 22, 2004, because the employee was dissatisfied with the interpreter provided on the first day of hearing. In findings and order filed on October 22, 2004, the compensation judge found that the employee had not sustained a work-related injury on February 29, 2004, and that the employee had been terminated for cause for falsifying work logs. The employee appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
On appeal, the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals must determine whether "the 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 (2004). Substantial evidence supports the findings if, in the context of the entire record, "they 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, findings of fact should not be disturbed, even though the reviewing court might disagree with them, "unless 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).
On appeal, the employee argues,
I fell and as a result sustained physical injuries whilst on duty and in the course of performing my designated employment duties for the defendant, my employer at the time of the accident. And whilst witnesses to testify to the account and to its effect, witnesses= testimonies had been disregarded, thus rendering the decision unfair and unjust.
We are not persuaded.
Several of the employee=s coworkers testified at hearing. Liban Ismail testified that he saw the employee sitting in the break room during the afternoon of February 29, 2004, and that the employee indicated that he had fallen that morning at work. Omar Hussein testified that, on the morning of the alleged injury, he saw the employee on the floor and helped him up. Hassan Abduallahi testified that Mr. Hussein had called him over to help the employee on February 29, 2004. Ahmed Abukar testified that he saw the employee as he was being helped up by Mr. Hussein and Mr. Abduallahi. However, contrary to the employee=s allegation, no witness testified that they had witnessed the alleged fall itself.
Clearly, a work injury need not be witnessed to be found compensable. In this case, however, there was also an absence of medical support for the employee=s claim. First, the employee did not seek medical treatment immediately following the alleged February 29, 2004, incident even though he testified that Athe injury was very painful and it was a great one.@ Secondly, the employee did not submit any medical opinion from any doctor stating that his medical treatment and current condition were causally related to the alleged fall on February 29, 2004.
The employee introduced only three exhibits of medical records at the hearing. The first exhibit consists of the MRI reports, which contain no history of injury. The second exhibit is a one-page form from Central Medical Clinic. On this form, a box is checked indicating that the type of claim is Awork comp,@ with a date of injury of A02-29-02,@ but there is no evidence as to who completed this form, no indication of the doctor=s findings on exam, and no indication as to when the form was completed. The third medical exhibit is the treatment logs of Dr. Shelton. On the first page, both API@ and AWC@ are circled, and the date of February 29, 2004, is filled in. The major complaints listed are neck, headaches, low back pain, sinus pains and fevers, but the doctor gives no history as to how or when those symptoms developed. In addition, a Courtesy Patient Update Form, included in those records, indicates under History and Additional Comments Aprior MVA 1999.@ While the employee contends in his brief that he does not know why doctors were not called Ato testify and to corroborate the origins of the said injuries,@ we would note that he was represented by counsel at hearing.
In addition, evidence submitted by the employer contradicts the employee=s testimony that he had fully recovered from a prior back injury by 2002. For example, medical records from the Park Nicollet Clinic reflect that the employee was seen there on October 24, 2003, complaining of low back pain that he described as being an 8-9 on a scale of 1 to 10. On December 15, 2003, when the employee returned to that clinic, the doctor recorded that the employee had a Aknown history of chronic back pain.@
It is well-settled that injuries are compensable if the employment causes, aggravates, or accelerates the employee=s condition. Wallace v. Hanson Silo Company, 305 Minn. 395, 235 N.W.2d 363, 28 W.C.D. 79 (1975). In the instant case, the employee has not provided substantial evidence that the alleged incident in February of 2004, was a substantial contributing cause of his condition or that it aggravated or accelerated a pre-existing condition. The primary evidence supporting the employee=s claim of a work injury occurring in February of 2004, was his testimony. While a compensation judge could have accepted that testimony as adequate, this compensation judge did not. Assessment of a witness=s credibility is the unique function of the trier of fact. Even v. Kraft, Inc., 445 N.W.2d 831, 42 W.C.D. 220 (Minn. 1989). In addition, the employer presented evidence of a pre-existing low back condition, with treatment as recent as October of 2003, and the testimony of the employee=s supervisor, Mr. Dyer, who indicated that the employee did not report an injury on February 29, 2004, and did not appear to be injured at the time of his meeting with the employee that afternoon.
At oral argument, as at hearing, the employee appeared to focus primarily on his argument that he was terminated by the employer because he had been active in trying to organize a union in the workplace, because he had complained about a camera in the lunchroom, and because he had asked for a raise. However, the cause of the termination only becomes an issue if it is determined that the employee sustained a work injury. Because substantial evidence supports the judge=s finding that the employee did not sustain a work injury, the question of why the employee was terminated is not relevant in the workers= compensation forum.
Finally, on appeal, the employee suggests that an interpreter at the hearing Amight have, inadvertently or otherwise, left out critical information in the translation, for I am finding out startling data, material evidence and supporting information that I had availed to the interpreter and to the attorney which had not been mentioned in anywhere in the case, and hence had not been submitted in the deliberation process.@ The transcript indicates that the employee first raised his concern with an interpreter during his cross-examination on the first day of hearing. The compensation judge appropriately continued the hearing for a second day, securing a different interpreter and allowing the employee=s attorney to conduct re-direct examination of the employee after review of the transcript from the first day of hearing. This court has no way to evaluate the employee=s allegations with regard to the interpretor on the second day of hearing. As such, we have no basis to grant any relief. The judge=s decision is affirmed in its entirety.
 According to a statement from Central Medical Clinic. Dr. Morales= records were not offered as an exhibit at trial.
 The employee testified that he could not go to the doctor at the time of injury because he did not have money. However, he also testified that his financial situation had not changed by the time he finally did consult a doctor on March 25, 2004.
 At oral argument, as in his brief on appeal, the employee attempted to introduce new evidence regarding the work logs. As we explained to the employee at oral argument, this court=s review is limited to evidence submitted to the compensation judge at the time of trial.