SUSAN E. GOEBEL, Employee/Appellant, v. DYNEON CORP./3M CO., and OLD REPUBLIC INS. CO., Employer-Insurer, and METROPOLITAN HAND SURGERY ASSOCS., CENTER FOR DIAGNOSTIC IMAGING, BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD OF MINN., SUMMIT ORTHOPEDICS, LTD., and ST. PAUL RADIOLOGY, Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JANUARY 24, 2005
ARISING OUT OF & IN THE COURSE OF. Where the record reasonably supported the conclusion that the employee=s knee gave out while she was walking solely as a result of a personal, preexisting condition, and where there was no evidence that the surface on which the employee landed aggravated the effects of her fall, substantial evidence supported the judge=s conclusion that the employee did not establish that her injury arose out of her employment.
Determined by: Wilson, J., Rykken, J., and Johnson, C.J.
Compensation Judge: Ronald E. Erickson
Attorneys: Raymond R. Peterson, McCoy, Peterson & Jorstad, Minneapolis, MN, for the Appellant. Timothy J. Manahan and Joshua T. Brinkman, Brown & Carlson, Minneapolis, MN, for the Respondents.
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge=s finding that the employee did not prove a causal connection between her employment and her injury. We affirm.
The employee has a long history of left knee problems dating back to 1969, when she dislocated her left kneecap. She went on to develop degenerative changes in the patella and underwent several surgeries, including the surgical removal of her kneecap. In January of 1995, the employee underwent a left knee arthroscopy and partial synovectomy; later that same year, she underwent a left knee patella femoral extensor mechanism realignment. The employee continued to experience knee difficulties thereafter, treating with Summit Orthopedics for left knee pain and stiffness in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. On September 5, 2001, she reported that her left knee had given out and that she had struck it forcibly along the medial aspect. Dr. Gannon recorded that the employee had previously had a few other episodes where her knee had given out.
The employee was employed as an international customer service representative by Dyneon Corporation, a subsidiary of 3M Corporation [the employer]. On January 15, 2003, the employee fell while carrying papers to the shipping room at work, landing face down on the floor. She sustained a fractured right elbow as a consequence of the fall.
The employee contended that she had slipped on the floor at work, which had stressed her left knee and caused her to fall, thus making her right elbow injury work-related, and she filed a claim petition seeking benefits related to that injury. The employer and insurer disputed the employee=s claim based in part on records generated on the date of injury reflecting that the employee had consistently explained her fall as having been caused by the buckling of her left knee. Those records were generated by coworkers who served as first responders to the employee=s injury, emergency workers with the Oakdale Fire Department/EMS, and the medical staff from the emergency room at St. John=s Hospital, where the employee was taken after the fall. The employer contended that the injury was caused solely by a condition that was personal to the employee and was therefore not compensable.
The claim petition proceeded to hearing, and, in findings and order filed on July 29, 2004, the compensation judge found that the employee had failed to prove that there was a causal connection between her employment activity on January 15, 2003, and the fall and injuries that occurred on that date. 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).
In his memorandum, the compensation judge explained that the most likely scenario for the incident at work on January 15, 2003, was the employee=s knee had buckled, causing her to fall. Because the preexisting left knee condition was personal to the employee, the judge found the injury non-compensable. The employee first contends that evidence establishes that her ankle twisted and/or her foot slipped, causing her preexisting weakened knee to buckle, which in turn caused her fall and resulting injuries. We are not persuaded.
The issue under this court=s standard of review is not whether the facts will support findings different than those made by the compensation judge, but, rather, whether substantial evidence supports the findings of the judge. Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 59, 37 W.C.D. 235, 239 (Minn. 1984). In this case, there is an abundance of evidence that supports the judge=s conclusion that the employee=s left knee buckled, causing her to fall.
To begin with, Craig Hoff and Heather Christianson, first responders to the employee=s fall, testified that, when asked how she had fallen, the employee replied that her knee had buckled. Janette Bledsoe, also a first responder, testified that while all the first responders were attending to her, the employee explained her fall by saying that she had a bad knee and that her knee had gone out. Julie Ann Baker, also a first responder, testified that, at the scene of the fall, she overheard the employee say that she had a prior history of knee problems and surgeries and that her knee had Agiven away.@
In addition, the Oakdale Fire Department/EMS records of January 15, 2003, indicate that APt. was walking at work today when her knee gave out.@ Similarly, emergency room records from St. John=s Hospital reflect that the employee Awas at work and walking when her left knee buckled and she fell.@ When Sandra Johnson, from the 3M Medical Clinic, called the employee at home on January 16, 2003, the employee described her fall as having happened as she Awas walking in hall to the loading area, next thing she knew she was on the ground. Does not know if anything present on the floor or knowledge of slip, trip.@ Finally, Pamela Hathaway, the insurance case manager to whom the employee=s claim was assigned, testified that when she called the employee on January 16, 2003, the employee reported, Aone minute I was walking, and one minute I was on the ground. She stated there was no liquid on the floor. She did not trip on a rug or any debris in the hallway.@
The employee=s attorney contended at oral argument that medical records predating the 2003 injury were consistent with the employee=s testimony that her knee buckled only under stress. However, as noted in the judge=s findings, 3M clinic records from February 14, 1979, reflect that the employee=s left knee had given out while walking in the hallway, and an April 7, 1981, entry at North Memorial Medical Center indicates that the employee Anow has problem with painful left knee that swells, locks and gives out.@ An arthroscopy was performed at that time, but a September 5, 2001, entry in Summit Orthopedics records reflects that the employee nevertheless had had Aa few episodes of [left knee] giving out.@ Substantial evidence supports the judge=s implicit finding that the employee=s fall was the result of her left knee giving out due to her preexisting condition.
The employee further contends that, even if her left knee did buckle spontaneously, causing her to fall, the resulting injury would still be compensable, on the theory that the effects of the fall were aggravated by the hard surfaces in the work place, which caused her elbow fracture. Again, we are not persuaded.
A personal injury is defined as an Ainjury arising out of and in the course of employment.@ Minn. Stat. ' 176.011, subd. 16. Minnesota has adopted the Aincreased risk@ test for determining whether an injury arises out of the employment. As the Minnesota Supreme Court has explained, A[t]he >arising out of= requirement refers to the causal connection between the employment and the injury. This requirement requires a showing of some hazard that increases the employee=s exposure to injury beyond that of the general public.@ Kirchner v. County of Anoka, 339 N.W.2d 908, 911, 36 W.C.D. 335, 337 (Minn. 1983). While the law on idiopathic falls is not entirely clear, Minn. Stat. ' 176.021, subd. 1, provides that the employee has the burden of proving that an injury arises out of the employment, and case law indicates that whether there exists the requisite causal connection between the work activities and the injury is a question of fact. Bohlin v. St. Louis County/Nopeming Nursing Home, 61 W.C.D. 69 (W.C.C.A. 2000).
We have reviewed the hearing record and do not see where the employee testified that she struck her elbow on either the alcove or on a hard floor. In addition, the Oakdale Fire Department/EMS records indicate only that the employee Abroke her fall with her arms,@ and the St. John=s Hospital records reflect that the employee Alanded on her outstretched right arm.@ The four first responders who testified all stated that the employee=s upper body was lying on a carpeted area when they arrived on the scene. There is also no evidence indicating that the type of surface that the employee landed on aggravated the effects of her fall. Under these circumstances, the compensation judge did not err in concluding that the employee did not establish that her right elbow injury arose out of her employment. The judge=s findings are therefore affirmed in their entirety.
 First responders are employees of the employer who are trained in first aid and CPR for immediate response to any on-site emergency.
 The employer does not deny that the injury occurred in the course of the employee=s employment.
 See also 1 Arthur Larson & Lex K. Larson, Larson=s Workers= Compensation Law ' 9.01 (2004), which provides,
When an employee, solely because of nonoccupational heart attack, epileptic fit, or fainting spell, falls and sustains a skull fracture or other injury, the question arises whether the skull fracture, as distinguished from the internal effects of the heart attack or disease, which of course are not compensable, is an injury arising out of the employment.
The basic rule, on which there is now general agreement, is that the effects of such a fall are compensable if the employment places the employee in a position increasing the dangerous effects of such a fall, such as height, near machinery or sharp corners, or in a moving vehicle.
 The employee did testify that she struck her head on the doorway as she fell. However, the employee was claiming only a right elbow injury at the time of hearing.
 Employer=s Exhibit 3 does contain a letter from Dr. John M. Knutson, in which he states that the employee=s fall and resulting injuries were work-related. Dr. Knutson, however, assumed that the employee had turned her ankle first, which caused her knee to give out.