Thursday, January 12, 2012

Summary 2012 WY 6

Summary of Decision January 12, 2012

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

Case Name:  Davenport v. State of Wyo., ex. rel., Wyo. Workers’ Safety and Compensation Div.

Citation:  2012 WY 6

Docket Number: S-11-0121

Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County, The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge

Representing Appellant (Petitioner/Claimant):  George Santini of Ross, Ross & Santini, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Respondent):  Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; John D. Rossetti, Deputy Attorney General; James Michael Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kelly Roseberry, Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: January 12, 2012

Facts:  In 2008-2009, Appellant sought worker’s compensation benefits for medical care and surgery to fuse vertebrae in his lumbar spine, claiming that his surgery was a direct result of 1984/1985 work related injuries. Appellant had a long history of back problems, including various complaints and injuries between 1986 and 2008.  Appellee (Division) denied benefits on the basis that his 2008-2009 back problems were not caused by work related injuries he suffered in 1984 and 1985.  After a contested case hearing, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld the Division’s denial of benefits, ruling that the procedure was necessitated by a preexisting congenital defect in Appellant’s lumbar spine and not his prior work related injuries.  Appellant petitioned for judicial review and the district court affirmed the OAH decision.  He timely appealed to this Court claiming the OAH erred by failing to recognize that an aggravation of a preexisting congenital defect is compensable and misapplied the second compensable injury rule.

Issues:  Appellant presented the following issues: 1) Whether the Hearing Officer erred by not recognizing that a material aggravation of a preexisting or congenital condition is a compensable injury and that the delayed effects of such aggravation are also compensable; and 2) Whether the second compensable injury rule was misapplied by the Hearing Officer.  Appellee stated the issue more generally: Whether substantial evidence supported the OAH’s decision that Appellant failed to prove a causal connection between his 1984 and 1985 work injuries and his 2008 lumbar symptoms and bi-level fusion surgery.

Holdings:  Affirmed.  The Court found that even had Appellant suffered an aggravation of his preexisting congenital condition in 1984/1985, that does not necessarily mean the aggravation caused the condition which required surgery in 2009.  Appellant was obligated to establish that causal connection by a preponderance of the evidence.  The evidence that Appellant worked at various jobs, was involved in several quite serious accidents and did not seek medical attention for his lower back for many years after the work related injuries, together with expert opinion, supported the hearing examiner’s conclusion that Appellant did not meet his burden of proving that his 2008-2009 treatment was the result of his 1984/1985 work related injuries.  The OAH decision is not against the overwhelming weight of the evidence and is, therefore, supported by substantial evidence in the record.  

C.J. Kite delivered the opinion for the court.

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