Injury and Accident: Aggravation: Occupational Disease

MONTANA SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

Banco v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp., [01/10/12] 2012 MT 3 Although Petitioner argued that the last injurious exposure rule should not apply because she worked two jobs concurrently and was exposed to conditions giving rise to her occupational disease at both places of employment, the WCC made an express finding that she was last injuriously exposed at one of the two concurrent jobs; this finding precludes an imposition of liability on the other employer.

Kratovil v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [12/29/08] 2008 MT 443 Insurer’s argument that a claimant must establish that his work was responsible for at least 51% of his condition is explicitly rejected. The correct standard, as applied by the Workers’ Compensation Court, is whether a claimant’s employment significantly aggravated or contributed to his occupational disease.
 
MONTANA WORKERS' COMPENSATION COURT DECISIONS

Cornelius v. Lumbermen's Underwriting Alliance [04/27/12] 2012 MTWCC 13 Where the medical evidence indicated that Petitioner’s condition is worse now than it was when she reached medical stability, and that her condition had been stable prior to the worsening of her symptoms, and where the parties presented no evidence to suggest that Petitioner’s condition is temporary, the Court interpreted a doctor’s opinion that Petitioner’s work “substantially” aggravated her condition to mean that the doctor believed it was a permanent aggravation.

Grande v. Montana State Fund [06/17/11] 2011 MTWCC 15 Section 39-71-407(2)(a), MCA, provides for the compensability of an aggravation to an underlying condition caused by an injury, but does not contain any language providing for the compensability of an aggravation caused by an OD.  Although the word “aggravation” does not appear in the statutory definition of “occupational disease” at § 39-71-119(2)(d), MCA, the statutory requirement that the work-related aspect of an occupational disease be the “major contributing cause” would be meaningless if permanent aggravations of underlying conditions can no longer be considered occupational diseases even if work-related factors are the major contributing cause of the condition.

Mullaney v. Montana State Fund [08/27/10] 2010 MTWCC 27 The claimant’s treating physician opined that she was experiencing pain from a non-ergonomic workstation and that she suffered “injuries . . . as a result of employment.”  The insurer erred in disregarding this opinion based on its assumptions regarding the adequacy of the treating physician’s review of medical records and his failure to specifically state whether the aggravation was temporary or permanent.
Kratovil v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [07/17/07] 2007 MTWCC 30 The legal standard for determining proximate causation under § 39-72-408, MCA, is whether a claimant’s employment significantly aggravated or contributed to his alleged occupational disease. Even if a nonwork-related motorcycle accident contributed to Petitioner’s hand and wrist conditions, the Court concludes that Petitioner’s employment significantly aggravated or contributed to his occupational disease and did so both before and after the motorcycle accident.
Oksendahl v. Liberty Northwest [06/21/07] 2007 MTWCC 24 Where a doctor opined that the injured worker’s arthritic condition would have developed “no matter what,” but was probably accelerated by his employment as a carpenter, the worker’s employment was a significant aggravation or contribution and therefore his condition was compensable as an occupational disease.
Oksendahl v. Liberty Northwest [06/21/07] 2007 MTWCC 24 Occupational factors need not play the major or most significant role in causing an OD, but must instead be a significant aggravation or contribution.
Liberty Mutual v. Griner [11/09/01] 2001 MTWCC 58 In alleged subsequent injury (aggravation) cases, the following rules apply:

[1] An insurer which is liable for a work-related injury continues to be liable for complications and aggravations of that injury until claimant reaches maximum medical improvement.

[2] Where a claimant has reached maximum medical improvement with respect to a prior work-related injury, the insurer for that injury nonetheless remains liable for medical expenses and disability benefits that are a direct and natural result of the original injury or which are a consequence of the natural progression of the injury or condition.

[3] Where a claimant has reached maximum medical improvement with respect to a prior work-related injury and suffers a new work-related trauma or traumas, or some other harmful work-related exposure affecting his preexisting injury or condition, the insurer at risk at the time of the subsequent trauma(s) or exposure is liable for resulting medical expenses and disability benefits if the trauma(s) or exposure materially and substantially aggravated the preexisting injury or condition.

The second and third rules are different sides of the same coin.

Liberty Mutual v. Griner [11/09/01] 2001 MTWCC 58 A new and distinct injury or disease is not subject to the subsequent injury (aggravation) rules and is the responsibility of the insurer at risk when the new injury occurs.
Liberty Mutual v. Griner [11/09/01] 2001 MTWCC 58 The fact that claimant is "predisposed" to further injury as a result of a prior injury does not constitute a direct link back to the prior injury. Predisposition does not equate to causation. It has long been the rule that employer (and its insurer) takes its employees as it finds them, with all their infirmities and predispositions.
Liberty Mutual v. Griner [11/09/01] 2001 MTWCC 58 In cases where claimant suffered a prior work-related injury or occupational disease involving the condition, a subsequent insurer is liable for an aggravation of the prior condition if and only if the subsequent work exposure was different from or in excess of ordinary, everyday activities typically occurring outside the job. § 39-72-408(4), MCA.
Liberty NW v. State Fund [10/12/01] 2001 MTWCC 56 Where claimant suffers an industrial injury but reaches maximum medical healing with respect to the injury and thereafter suffers an occupational exposure which permanently aggravates the underlying injury-related condition, the insurer at risk at the time of the subsequent occupational exposure is liable for the medical condition and disability resulting from the aggravation. Caekaert v. State Compensation Mut. Ins. Fund and Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. v. Champion Intern. Corp. applied.

Ostwald v. Plum Creek Manufacturing [12/05/95] 1995 MTWCC 102 Although DOL previously found claimant to suffer from an occupational disease, neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel bar his claim for workers’ compensation benefits where Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Disease Act are not the same. Court may determine in this proceeding that claimant suffered a compensable injury aggravating his back condition.