Monday, September 08, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 105

Summary of Decision issued September 8, 2008

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: In re Palmer v. State, ex rel., Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Comp. Div.

Citation: 2008 WY 105

Docket Number: S-07-0244

Appeal from the District Court of Teton County, the Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge.

Representing Appellant: David M. Gosar, Gosar Law Office, Jackson, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Bruce A. Salzburg, Attorney General; John William Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; Steven R. Czoschke, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kristi Marie Radosevich, Assistant Attorney General.

Facts/Discussion: In 1998, Palmer was diagnosed with degenerated spinal disks in her lower back. She received various medical and chiropractic treatments, but chose not to undergo surgery when that was recommended by her doctor. In 2003, Palmer injured her back while at work. She received medical treatments and eventually surgery was performed on her back. The Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division denied her request for benefits, taking the position that her back problems were preexisting and therefore not compensable. Palmer requested a hearing and the hearing examiner determined that she had sustained a compensable workplace injury affecting part of her back but that her other degenerative back problems were preexisting and therefore not compensable.
Under the plain language of the statute, reversal of an agency finding or action is required if it is not supported by substantial evidence. Whether an employee’s injury is work-related or preexisting is a question of fact. The Court’s review of the record indicated that there was substantial evidence to sustain the hearing examiner’s findings. The parties do not seriously dispute that Palmer suffered from both a preexisting condition and a new work-related injury. Rather, they dispute what benefits Palmer should receive for medical costs that relate to both a work-related injury and a preexisting condition.
Palmer’s back problems are of at least two different types – degeneration and herniation – with at least two separate causes – the preexisting condition and the work-related injury. The hearing examiner did not engage in improper apportionment when he awarded benefits for the work-related herniation and denied benefits for the preexisting condition.
Relying on the principle of ancillary treatment, Palmer asserted that if effective treatment of a compensable injury requires ancillary treatment for otherwise non-compensable conditions, then the worker may be entitled to benefits covering the entire course of treatment. The Court applied the principle in Forni v. Pathfinder Mines. In the instant case, a multi-level fusion was performed because there were degenerative changes at other levels which needed to be addressed at the time the foraminal disk herniation was addressed. There was no evidence in the record disputing the conclusion that treatment of the work-related injury at level L4-L5 required fusions at L3 through S1. The hearing examiner’s conclusion was not supported by substantial evidence and so was reversed by the Court.

Holding: The Court affirmed the hearing examiner’s decision that Palmer’s foraminal herniation at level L4-L5 was a compensable, work-related injury. The Court also affirmed his determination that the degenerative condition at levels L3-L4 and L5-S1 was preexisting and not work-related. However, the hearing examiner’s decision to limit Palmer’s benefits to the fusion at level L4-L5 is reversed, and this case is remanded to the district court, for further remand to the agency with instructions to award benefits to Palmer consistent with the opinion.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

J. Burke delivered the decision.

Link: .

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

No comments:

Check out our tags in a cloud (from Wordle)!