LONNY R. BACH, Employee/Appellant, v. HUTCHINSON TECH., INC., SELF-INSURED, adm=d by CONSTITUTION STATE SERV. CO., Employer-Insurer, and ALLINA HOSPS. and CLINICS - BUFFALO HOSP., MEDICA/HEALTHCARE RECOVERIES, KEAVENY DRUG, METROPOLITAN NEUROSURGERY, CENTER FOR DIAGNOSTIC IMAGING, ANESTHESIA ASSOCS. OF ST. CLOUD, CENTRAL MINN. EMERGENCY PHYSICIANS, ALLINA MED. CLINIC/AFP ANNANDALE, and ST. CLOUD HOSP., Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JUNE 28, 2005
CAUSATION - TEMPORARY INJURY. Substantial evidence, including the adequately founded opinion of the employer and insurer=s medical expert, supports the compensation judge=s finding that the employee=s work-related injuries of August 11, 1997, and February 18, 1998, were temporary injuries that resolved by July 1998, and the judge=s denial of workers= compensation benefits.
Determined By: Johnson, C.J., Wilson, J., and Stofferahn, J.
Compensation Judge: Catherine A. Dallner
Attorneys: Eric R. Lee, Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, Coon Rapids, MN, for the Appellant. Louis R. Tilton and Jeffrey J. Lindquist, Pustorino, Tilton, Parrington & Lindquist, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
THOMAS L. JOHNSON, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge=s determination that the employee=s personal injuries of August 11, 1997, and February 18, 1998, were temporary injuries that resolved by July 1998, and her denial of workers= compensation benefits. We affirm.
Lonny R. Bach, the employee, worked for Hutchinson Technology, Inc., the employer, from February 1977 to May 1998. On August 11, 1997, the employee was walking along a catwalk carrying a tray of materials when a plate in the catwalk shifted causing the employee to fall onto some adjacent pipes. The self-insured employer admitted liability for the employee=s personal injury.
On August 13, 1997, the employee saw Neil R. Mattson, D.C., complaining of neck pain following his personal injury. The doctor diagnosed a strain/sprain of the cervical and thoracic spine and provided two chiropractic treatments. On August 22, 1997, Dr. Mattson released the employee to return to work without restrictions. By report dated September 1, 1997, Dr. Mattson stated the employee had reached maximum medical improvement and sustained no permanent disability as a result of his personal injury.
On February 18, 1998, the employee sustained a second personal injury to his cervical spine while reaching overhead and looking up performing inspection activities. The self-insured employer also admitted liability for this personal injury.
The employee saw Dr. Basil C. LeBlanc on February 20, 1998, complaining of wrist, shoulder and neck pain. The doctor diagnosed a cervical, shoulder and wrist strain which he related to ergonomic issues related to positioning at work. Dr. LeBlanc prescribed physical therapy and released the employee to work with restrictions. On February 27, Dr. LeBlanc=s diagnosis was cervical strain. On March 9, 1998, Dr. LeBlanc noted the employee=s cervical strain was improved and he released the employee to return to work without restrictions and stated he anticipated no disability as a result of the employee=s injury.
On March 10, 1998, the employee saw Dr. Philip J. Bachman complaining of continued neck pain. The doctor diagnosed a cervical strain and prescribed further physical therapy. By May 11, 1998, Dr. Bachman noted the employee=s cervical strain had resolved and he released him to return to work without restrictions. By report dated May 18, 1998, Dr. Bachman opined the employee had reached maximum medical improvement from the effects of his injury and rated no permanent partial disability.
The employee returned to see Dr. Bachman in June 1998 complaining of neck pain and dizziness when he turned his head. An MRI scan in July 1998 showed some dehydration and degenerative changes at C5-6 and C6-7 with a very mild degenerative encroachment upon the neural foramina. After reviewing the MRI scan and examining the employee, Dr. Bachman again stated the employee had reached maximum medical improvement with no permanent disability.
The employee continued to work for the employer at his regular job following both personal injuries. In May 1998, the employee was terminated and he then went to work for a plumbing and heating company installing and servicing plumbing and heating equipment. His duties included installing water and drain lines, sinks, toilets, furnaces and furnace vents in homes. The employee next went to work for a lumber company where he cut wood and loaded and delivered lumber. The employee next installed and repaired vending machines and then went to work for a concrete company installing and cutting concrete sidewalks. In 2000, the employee went to work for New Flyer USA where he did body work and painting on transit buses.
On April 11, 2001, the employee saw Dawn Ramaley, a physician=s assistant, complaining of neck pain radiating into his left arm and fingers. The employee gave Ms. Ramaley a history of his 1998 injury and stated he experienced chronic problems with exacerbations about once a year since then. Ms. Ramaley diagnosed torticollis with muscle spasms and prescribed physical therapy. An MRI scan showed a left posterolateral disc herniation at C5-6. The employee was referred to Dr. Daniel Ahlberg, a neurosurgeon, who performed a C5-6 anterior cervical fusion surgery in May 2001. Following the surgery, the employee initially did quite well but in October 2002, he saw his family physician, Dr. Hal Wenngatz, complaining that his neck pain and stiffness had returned and he was experiencing tingling and numbness in both arms. Dr. Wenngatz ordered an MRI scan which showed broad-based disc bulging and spurring at C6-7 and to a lesser degree at C4-5.
Dr. Wenngatz referred the employee to Dr. Jeffrey S. Gerdes, a neurosurgeon, who examined the employee on January 21, 2003. The employee reported that he did well following his surgery until August 2002 when he began to develop increasing neck pain and headaches. The doctor ordered a CT myelogram which showed spurring and osteophyte formation resulting in mild foraminal stenosis at C6-7. Dr. Gerdes recommended and performed a C4-5 and C6-7 anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Following the surgery, Dr. Gerdes rated the employee with a 15 percent permanent partial disability secondary to his 1997 and 1998 personal injuries.
Dr. Paul T. Wicklund examined the employee in April 2003 at the request of the employer and his deposition was taken in July 2004. The doctor diagnosed multilevel degenerative disc disease status-post disc fusion with ongoing neck pain. The doctor stated the employee sustained a temporary cervical strain in August 1997 and February 1998. Dr. Wicklund testified neither the 1997 or 1998 injuries caused the need for the medical care provided by Dr. Ahlberg or Dr. Gerdes.
The employee filed a claim petition seeking wage loss benefits and medical expenses. Following the hearing, the compensation judge found the employee=s injuries of August 11, 1997, and February 18, 1998, were temporary injuries that resolved by July 1998. Accordingly, the compensation judge denied the employee=s claim for benefits. The employee appeals.
The employee contends the overwhelming consensus of the medical experts, including Dr. Wenngatz, Dr. Ahlberg and Dr. Gerdes, is that the employee=s work injuries were substantial contributing causes of his need for surgery, related wage loss and permanent disability. The opinion of Dr. Wicklund, the employee contends, lacks foundation and the compensation judge improperly relied upon it. Accordingly, the employee contends, the compensation judge=s findings are unsupported by substantial evidence and must be reversed. We disagree.
Following his August 1997 personal injury, the employee received two chiropractic treatments and was then released to return to work without restrictions. The employee lost no time from work as a result of this injury and continued to perform his regular job with the employer until February 18, 1998. Following this second injury, the employee was treated conservatively first by Dr. LeBlanc and then by Dr. Bachman. By March 9, 1998, Dr. LeBlanc opined the employee=s cervical strain had improved and he released the employee to return to work without restrictions. On May 11, 1998, Dr. Bachman also opined the employee=s cervical strain had resolved and imposed no restrictions. An MRI scan in July 1998 showed degenerative changes at C5-6 and C6-7 with a very mild degenerative encroachment upon the neural foramina. After reviewing the scan, Dr. Bachman opined the employee had reached maximum medical improvement and concluded he sustained no permanent partial disability. This evidence supports the compensation judge=s finding that the employee=s personal injuries resolved by July 1998.
In addition, Dr. Wicklund opined the employee=s personal injuries were temporary and were not contributing causes to the employee=s need for surgery. Dr. Wicklund reviewed the employee=s medical records, examined the employee, and was provided with a factually extensive hypothetical question at his deposition. Accordingly, Dr. Wicklund had foundation for his opinions. Questions of medical causation are fact questions within the province of the compensation judge as the trier of fact. Felton v. Anton Chevrolet, 513 N.W.2d 457, 50 W.C.D. 181 (Minn. 1994). Although there were medical opinions contrary to those of Dr. Wicklund, it is the compensation judge=s responsibility to choose between conflicting expert opinions. See Nord v. City of Cook, 360 N.W.2d 337, 342, 37 W.C.D. 364, 372 (Minn. 1985).
A factual finding is clearly erroneous only where Athe 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). That is not the case here. There is substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted that supports the compensation judge=s decision. Accordingly, this court must affirm that decision. Minn. Stat. ' 176.421, subd. 1 (1992).