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IN THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
1995 MTWCC 100
LIBERTY NORTHWEST INSURANCE CORPORATION
GERALD A. BURCH
CHAMPION INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION
ORDER AND JUDGMENT
Summary: Insurer of successor employer sought reimbursement for benefits paid on behalf of mill employee, contending benefits resulted from natural progression of injury suffered under predecessor, self-insured employer.
Held: Where the only medical opinion concludes that claimant suffered from “continued” impingement of his right shoulder, and claimant testified he suffered no new dislocations or trauma but simply had pain in certain activities, the predecessor employer is responsible for the condition as a natural progression of a prior injury.
This case came on for trial in Missoula, Montana, on October 24, 1995. Petitioner, Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp. (Liberty), was represented by Mr. Larry W. Jones. Respondent Gerald A. Burch (claimant) was present and represented by Mr. Rex Palmer. Respondent Champion International Corporation was represented by Mr. Robert E. Sheridan.
Exhibits 1 through 10 were admitted by agreement of the parties. The parties also agreed to submit claimant's deposition for the Court's consideration. Claimant, Thomas C. McCoy, Edward R. Roberts and Lucy Heintz were all sworn and testified.
Issue presented: Liberty's petition seeks reimbursement from Champion for compensation and medical benefits paid by Liberty to claimant on account of a right shoulder condition.
Facts: Claimant injured his right shoulder on May 9, 1990, while employed by Champion as a spreaderman at its wood products mill. His claim for compensation was accepted by Champion, which was self-insured.
Claimant was off work for several weeks and was treated with medication and physical therapy. He thereafter returned to work and continued working for Champion until the mill was purchased by Stimson Lumber in November 1993. However, following his injury claimant did not return to full-time duties as a spreaderman and worked various jobs at the mill, including occasional spreader work, which was the most physically demanding work vis-à-vis claimant's shoulder. Claimant continued to experience occasional flare-ups of his shoulder pain.
After its purchase of the mill, Stimson hired claimant as a full-time spreaderman commencing in early 1994. Claimant worked 10 hour days, 4 days a week. His shoulder pain worsened and he negotiated a resignation from Stimson within 90 days of his employment. Then, on account of his continuing shoulder pain, and only after urging by his attorney, in May 1994, the claimant returned to his physician for the first time since 1990. His physician recommended surgery and that surgery was ultimately performed in March 1995.
In November 1994, claimant filed a second claim for compensation, this time with Liberty, which insured Stimson. Liberty thereafter paid both compensation and medical benefits but argues in this action that claimant's surgery and underlying shoulder condition were caused by his 1990 injury. Champion contends that claimant's condition is the result of an injury or occupational disease occurring while he was employed by Stimson.
Bench ruling: At the close of trial, the Court noted that the only medical opinion presented at trial regarding causation was found in a note of Dr. Wood, claimant's treating physician, who wrote on May 6, 1994, "Continued impingement, right shoulder." (Ex. 1 at 1; emphasis added.) Dr. Wood's original diagnosis in 1990 was "[b]iceps tendonitis[sic] and mild impingement right shoulder." (Ex. 1 at 2.) He noted on May 6, 1994, that claimant reported that he had not suffered any dislocations or further trauma and that his pain was mainly associated "with activity in certain motions." (Ex. 1 at 1.) I entered a bench ruling finding that claimant's shoulder condition in 1994 was the result of a natural progression of his shoulder condition which resulted from his 1990 injury and ordered Champion to reimburse Liberty for medical payments and for compensation benefits paid claimant, the latter limited to claimant's 1990 compensation rate.
Following the bench ruling, the parties agreed that formal written findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary. They agreed that entry of judgment and a copy of the transcript of the Court's bench ruling will constitute the Court's decision.
Accordingly, judgment is entered as follows:
1. For the reasons set forth in the Court's bench ruling, a transcript of which is attached, Champion shall reimburse Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp. for all medical payments it made on account of medical care received by claimant on account of his right shoulder condition and for all compensation benefits it paid claimant on account of that condition. Reimbursement of compensation benefits shall be limited to claimant's 1990 compensation rate. Any payments made by Liberty in excess of the 1990 rate shall be borne by Liberty and are not subject to reimbursement by Champion.
2. The parties shall bear their own costs and attorney fees.
3. This JUDGMENT is certified as final for purposes of appeal pursuant to ARM 24.5.348.
4. Any party to this dispute may have 20 days in which to request a rehearing from this Order and Judgment.
Dated in Helena, Montana, this 27th day of November, 1995.
c: Mr. Larry W. Jones
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