JUNE 22, 2017

No. WC17-6028

SETTLEMENTS - INTERPRETATION. The compensation judge correctly interpreted a stipulation for settlement in concluding that a claim against that particular employer was closed out because the condition at issue was known to the parties at the time of settlement. The fact the employee did not identify a separate date of injury until well after the settlement does not alter the analysis under Ryan v. Potlatch Corp., 882 N.W.2d 220 (Minn. 2016). Accordingly, the judge did not err in dismissing the employer from further participation in the litigation of the employee’s claim petition against other employers.

    Determined by:
  1. Gary M. Hall, Judge
  2. Patricia J. Milun, Chief Judge
  3. David A. Stofferahn, Judge

Compensation Judge: Jerome G. Arnold

Attorneys: Russell J. LaCourse, LaCourse & Envall, Duluth, Minnesota, for the Appellant. Sarah E. Groskreutz. Attorney at Law, Edina, Minnesota, for the Respondents Kolar Buick and Western National Insurance. Jerome D. Feriancek, Thibodeau, Johnson, & Feriancek, P.L.L.P., Duluth, Minnesota, for the Respondents Duluth Dodge and Berkley Risk Administrators Company, LLC. Mark A. Kleinschmidt, Cousineau Waldhauser & Kieselbach, P.A., Mendota Heights, Minnesota, for the Respondents Northstar Ford/Duluth Ford and Berkley Risk Administrators Company, LLC. Jaclyn S. Millner, Law Office of Thomas Stilp, Golden Valley, Minnesota, for the Respondents Northstar Ford/Evergreen Limited and Liberty Mutual Insurance Cos.




The employee appeals the compensation judge’s dismissal of Northstar Ford/Evergreen Limited (Evergreen) from this litigation as unsupported by substantial evidence. The employee also asserts that the compensation judge erred as a matter of law in interpreting the close out of claims regarding his low back in a settlement to include an injury not yet identified. Evergreen responded that the compensation judge properly applied the standards established in Ryan v. Potlatch Corp., 882 N.W.2d 220 (Minn. 2016), and Sweep v. Hanson Silo Co., 391 N.W.2d 817 (Minn. 1986), to determine that the employee’s low back condition was known to the parties and at issue at the time of settlement. We affirm.


The employee, Richard Allan, suffered work injuries for four different employers while performing duties as an auto mechanic. The employee experienced low back and lower left extremity problems since 1985 from a fall at work which resulted in low back surgery. The employee experienced significant relief of his low back pain symptoms from the surgery. The employee’s ongoing low back symptoms were addressed by physical therapy and home exercise.

In 1992, the employee suffered another low back injury while moving an automobile transmission. In March 1992, the employee underwent a left L4-L5 laminectomy. The employee experienced ongoing pain in his low back and left knee which was addressed conservatively.

On July 5, 2013, the employee’s left knee complaints became acute after he stepped into a hole while at work for Evergreen. Conservative care did not address the employee’s symptoms. An MRI indicated end-stage degenerative arthritis in his left knee. On September 25, 2013, David A. Rust, M.D. examined the employee and recommended total knee replacement. On February 12, 2014, Dr. Rust examined the employee and found moderate-to-severe arthritis in the employee’s right knee as well.

On April 19, 2014, the employee experienced left knee pain while at work. On April 21, 2014, the employee sought emergency room care and the notes of Amery B. Robinson, M.D. indicated that there was no new injury to the left knee. No mention was made of any low back symptoms. On April 22, 2014, the employee was examined by Dr. Rust. Dr. Rust’s chart note indicates that the employee was complaining of swelling, stiffness, and aching soreness in his left knee “following a particularly busy day at work last Friday.” No mention was made of the employee’s low back. On April 30, 2014, Dr. Rust added an addendum to the employee’s medical record to state that the employee “is also reported experiencing low back pain as well as numbness and tingling radiating into the bilateral lower legs since the time of his left knee injury.”[1]

The employee’s last day of work was April 19, 2014. The employee applied for SSD benefits and was approved promptly for total disability.

On May 29, 2014, Richard C. Strand, M.D. conducted an independent medical examination (IME) of the employee on behalf of Evergreen. The IME opinion was issued on June 13, 2014. The employee indicated that the April 19, 2014, incident involved numbness in his left foot and the employee attributed his symptoms to a prior work injury with Kolar Buick. Dr. Strand concluded there was no new injury. Dr. Strand concluded that the employee did not suffer a Gillette-type injury to his low back culminating in February 2014. Dr. Strand opined that the employee’s bilateral knee conditions were unrelated to any work injury.[2]

The employee claimed two specific work injuries while working for Evergreen, 1) the left knee injury on July 5, 2013, and 2) a Gillette-type injury to his low back culminating on February 14, 2014.[3] Evergreen admitted the left knee injury and contended the low back injury was solely due to the employee’s preexisting degenerative arthritis unrelated to employment. The parties entered into a settlement in July 2014, which states in part:

The Employer and Insurer shall pay to the Employee the lump sum of $75,000.00, which the employee accepts in FULL, FINAL AND COMPLETE SETTLEMENT OF ANY KIND AND ALL CLAIMS which the Employee may have for any form of workers’ compensation benefits for claims past, present and future, arising out of any specific, Gillette and/or occupational injuries occurring or culminating on or about 2010, July 5, 2013, and February 12, 2014, including any and all known consequential injuries.

The settlement closed the low back, left open future medical benefits other than the low back, and specifically approved bilateral total knee replacement surgery. The employee represented that he had no other known injuries arising out of employment with Evergreen other than those listed.[4]

On August 12, 2014, the employee underwent a left knee replacement. The employee experienced foot drop after the replacement surgery and back problems were identified as the cause. On February 26, 2016, the employee underwent a laminectomy at L4-L5 and bilateral hemilaminectomies at L5-S1.

On August 15, 2016, Mark C. Gregorson, M.D., conducted a records review of the employee’s condition on behalf of the employee. Dr. Gregorson made no mention of the employee’s February 12, 2014, Gillette-type injury. Dr. Gregorson noted the employee’s ongoing low back symptoms and indicated that those symptoms were “permanently aggravated by the April 2014 work injury ....”[5]

On August 18, 2016, the employee underwent an IME conducted by Gary Wyard, M.D. on behalf of Kolar Buick. Dr. Wyard noted the February 7, 1992, work injury to the employee’s low back. The employee did not mention the February 12, 2014, Gillette-type injury in his history. No mention of that injury is included in the outside information review. Dr. Wyard concluded that the employee’s low back condition was the result of the February 7, 1992, work injury that permanently aggravated the employee’s pre-existing condition. Dr. Wyard opined that the employee experienced a reinjury on March 24, 1998. Dr. Wyard also concluded that the employee suffered a Gillette-type injury that culminated on May 10, 2000, which permanently aggravated the employee’s preexisting back and knee conditions. In Dr. Wyard’s opinion, the employee suffered a work injury on April 19, 2014, which permanently aggravated the employee’s preexisting low back and knee conditions.

The employee brought a claim for benefits arising out of the claimed April 19, 2014, work injury against all four of the employee’s prior employers. Evergreen moved to dismiss, based on the terms of the settlement agreement and an assertion that there was no injury on April 19, 2014. The motion was heard by Compensation Judge Jerome Arnold by telephone. The judge found that the employee’s low back condition arising out of any injury on April 19, 2014, was reasonably or should have been reasonably within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the settlement in July 2014. The judge found that the claim brought against Evergreen was barred by the settlement and award on stipulation. Evergreen was dismissed as a party. The employee appealed.


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(3). 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 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).

A decision which rests upon the application of a statute or rule to essentially undisputed facts generally involves a question of law which the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals may consider de novo. Krovchuk v. Koch Oil Refinery, 48 W.C.D. 607, 608 (W.C.C.A. 1993), summarily aff’d (Minn. June 3, 1993).


The Minnesota Supreme Court’s holding in Sweep established that a close-out in a stipulation could not foreclose workers’ compensation claims for any future work-related injuries during the employment relationship. In Ryan, the Minnesota Supreme Court clarified that a close-out can foreclose claims for conditions arising out of the work injury, so long as the condition was at issue in the proceeding at the time of settlement, stating:

We conclude that a workers’ compensation settlement agreement may close out not only the workers’ compensation injury that is the subject of the agreement, but also conditions and complications arising out of the workers’ compensation injury. It is not necessary that the condition or complication be specifically referenced in the settlement agreement. The agreement, however, must resolve not only the workers’ compensation injury, but also any conditions or complications that arise out of the injury that were, or should have been, reasonably within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the agreement.[6]

In this proceeding, the settlement agreement closes out all economic and medical benefits to the low back arising out of injuries on “2010, July 5, 2013 and February 12, 2014, including any and all known consequential injuries.” This language is similar to the close-out language at issue in Ryan.

Under Ryan, a full, final, and complete close-out is effective for any condition that is reasonably within the contemplation of the parties at the time of settlement. The July 2014 settlement plainly closed out the employee’s low back against Evergreen. The compensation judge relied on the employee’s issues with his low back being well-known to conclude that a close-out of the low back and the agreement that the employee had not suffered any other unidentified injuries, both occurring in July, was sufficient to put the low back at issue for a subsequently claimed injury asserted to have occurred in April 2014.

The essential question is whether “injury” in this context means the specific date of injury claims that are identified in the settlement or the resulting condition that is addressed by the settlement language. The employee contends that the absence of a specific date of injury in the settlement agreement is sufficient to preserve the claim to reach hearing against Evergreen. Evergreen and Duluth Dodge maintain that the identification of low back as the area closed out meets the Ryan standard and the claim is appropriately dismissed against Evergreen. We agree that, under Ryan, knowledge of the condition at the time of settlement determines the extent of the close out.[7]

The record supports the compensation judge’s determination that the employee was aware that his back condition was at issue. The medical note of April 30, 2014, shows that the employee recognized a relationship between to the incident on April 19, 2014, and his back condition. The employee closed out claims for his low back against Evergreen in July 2014. For these reasons, we affirm the compensation judge’s determination.

[1] Employee’s Exhibit C.

[2] Id.

[3] The date of the Gillette-type injury is also identified as February 12, 2014.

[4] Employee’s Exhibit B.

[5] Evergreen’s Exhibit B.

[6] Ryan, 882 N.W.2d at 225.

[7] Evergreen maintains that the compensation judge found that there was no injury suffered on April 19, 2014. The employee disputes this contention. The compensation judge did not make an express finding whether or not the employee suffered a discrete work injury on April 19, 2014. The operative language of the dismissal in Finding 11 plainly states that the employee’s claim is barred by the terms of the July 2014 settlement. The effect of the judge’s order is limited to its terms.