Occupational Disease: Causation

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 State Fund v. Murray, 2005 MT 97 (No. 04-576) Where claimant alleges an occupational exposure worsened a preexisting condition and led to benefit entitlement, the test for compensability under the Occupational Disease Act is whether occupational factors significantly aggravated the preexisting condition, not whether there was a “substantial” aggravation.
Fellenberg v. Transportation Ins. Co., 2005 MT 90 Although a former employee of W. R. Grace had an injurious condition (asbestosis) that was one hundred percent attributable to his employment, undisputed facts demonstrated that his retirement was not related to his lung disease and he had no intention of returning to work after retirement. In this situation, the Workers’ Compensation Court correctly determined that claimant’s asbestosis did not result in a loss of actual earnings or earnings capability, meaning he was not entitled to permanent total disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, or an impairment award.

McNamara v. MHA Workers' Compensation Reciprocal [05/25/16] 2016 MTWCC 5 Claimant’s treating physician testified that her work may have accelerated her degenerative knee condition “a little bit,” but she would have required a knee replacement regardless, and an old injury was the leading cause of her need for surgery when compared to all other contributing causes, including her occupation.

Vonfeldt v. Costco Wholesale Corp. [11/16/15] 2015 MTWCC 20 Petitioner’s myofascial pain syndrome is a compensable OD because her work was the leading cause of the onset of her pain, and while her treating physician and the IME panel agree that her work aggravated her myofascial pain syndrome, the panel incorrectly believed that it was only a temporary aggravation.  The Court concluded that the aggravation was not “temporary” since Petitioner was still suffering from it more than four years after its onset. 

Haines v. Montana University System Self-Funded Workers' Compensation Program [06/09/15] 2015 MTWCC 9 Although the Court found it plausible that Petitioner’s exposure to various chemicals in his workplace caused him to develop peripheral neuropathy, mere plausibility is insufficient.  Where the only evidence Petitioner had in this regard was the opinion of an expert witness the Court found unreliable, Petitioner did not prove that he suffered from an occupational disease.

Kramlich v. The Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority [12/17/14] 2014 MTWCC 21 Although some medical providers opined that Petitioner’s work conditions exacerbated his symptoms, § 39-71-407(12), MCA (2011), requires not just that employment be a contributing cause of an alleged occupational disease, but that it be the major contributing cause.  The Court concluded that Petitioner’s reliance upon his medical records without supporting medical testimony was insufficient to fulfill that requirement.

Baeth v. Liberty NW Ins. Corp. [05/05/14] 2014 MTWCC 10 Where both treating physicians testified that they had treated a number of patients who were exposed to significant levels of asbestos and developed ARD after working in the same plywood plant as Petitioner, the Court concluded that Petitioner’s ARD met the definition of an OD and that claimant’s employment was the direct and proximate cause of her OD under Kratovil v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. after both physicians testified that her employment was a significant factor in her development of ARD.

Langston v. MACO Workers' Compensation Trust [07/22/13] 2013 MTWCC 15 Despite Petitioner’s sincere belief that the conditions at her place of employment exacerbated her COPD, her subjective belief is unsupported by the medical evidence which relates the flare-up of Petitioner’s COPD to an upper respiratory infection.

Grande v. Montana State Fund [06/17/11] 2011 MTWCC 15 In order to qualify as a compensable OD, the leading cause contributing to the result, when compared to all other contributing causes, must be related to the claimant’s employment pursuant to § 39-71-407(13), MCA.  Here, Petitioner’s treating physician is board-certified in rheumatology and testified that Petitioner’s pre-existing osteoarthritis was permanently aggravated by his work driving a truck, and on a more probable than not basis, his job duties were the leading cause of the worsening of Petitioner’s osteoarthritis.

Banco v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [06/02/11] 2011 MTWCC 13 Where a claimant worked two physically demanding jobs seven days a week and quit one of them, under In re Mitchell, the insurer for the employer with whom the claimant continued to work is liable for her occupational disease, since the claimant was last exposed on that job to working conditions of the same type and kind which gave rise to the disease even though both jobs contributed to it.
Chapman v. Twin City Fire Ins. Co. [12/20/10] 2010 MTWCC 36 Although Petitioner opined that her work conditions aggravated or exacerbated her underlying degenerative disk disease, the only causal evidence presented was an opinion letter from an F.N.P. who stated that Petitioner’s job duties “may” aggravate her shoulder pain.  This evidence only indicates the possibility that Petitioner’s job duties may have aggravated her underlying condition and does not meet Petitioner’s burden of proving that it is more probable than not that her condition is work-related.
Johnson v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp. [07/01/09] 2009 MTWCC 20 Where the Court found that Petitioner’s employment exposure to asbestos clearly exceeded his non-employment exposure, and the Court found the treating physician’s opinion that Petitioner’s exposure to asbestos during his years at Stimson was sufficient to cause his asbestos-related disease, the Court concluded that Petitioner suffers from an occupational disease as a result of his employment under the proximate causation test as set forth in Kratovil and pursuant to § 39-72-408, MCA.
Dewey v. Montana Contractor Compensation Fund [05/16/09] 2009 MTWCC 17 Although the objective medical evidence established that the claimant had bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, the claimant failed to prove under § 39-71-407(9), MCA, that events occurring on more than a single day or work shift are the major contributing cause of his carpal tunnel syndrome where the only medical provider who found a causative link had incomplete and inaccurate information and no access to older medical records.
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 The correct test for compensability under the Occupational Disease Act is whether occupational factors significantly aggravated or contributed to the injured worker’s condition.
Faulkner v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co. [04/24/07] 2007 MTWCC 15 Based on the trial testimony of Petitioner’ treating physician, the medical evidence, and the evidence regarding Petitioner’s work activities, the Court concludes that Petitioner sustained an occupational disease in the course and scope of his employment at N.E.W. Petitioner’s employment activities at N.E.W. were the major contributing cause of his occupational disease in relation to other factors.
Faulkner v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co. [04/24/07] 2007 MTWCC 15 Under the 2005 version of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Court does not need to determine whether Petitioner’s occupational disease is related to the January 2000 injury or is a new distinct occupational disease unrelated to the 2000 injury. The Court only needs to determine whether the events that occurred during Petitioner’s employment at N.E.W. were the “major contributing cause” of his occupational disease in relation to other factors.
Mack v. Montana State Fund [08/12/05] 2005 MTWCC 48 Causation is found where the treating pulmonologist provides persuasive and reasoned testimony that the cumulative effect of the claimant’s work exposure to grain dust caused permanent obstructive lung disease.
Vercos v. Workers' Compensation Risk Retention Program [6/30/04] 2004 MTWCC 53 To prevail on an occupational disease claim based on exposure to mold, the claimant must show that mold, which is ubiquitous, was present in the workplace at higher levels than other places the claimant frequents.
Vercos v. Workers' Compensation Risk Retention Program [6/30/04] 2004 MTWCC 53 To prevail on an occupational disease claim based on exposure to mold, the clamant must prove that her medical condition was in fact caused or aggravated by her exposure to mold in the workplace. Belief and speculation as to causation are not sufficient.
Fuss v. Ins. Co. of NA and Valor [4/8/04] 2004 MTWCC 34 Liability for an occupational disease extends only to the disease and to conditions and sequella that are caused by the occupational disease.

State Fund v. Carl Murray [4/6/04] 2004 MTWCC 33 The Montana Occupational Disease Act does not require that occupational exposures be the principal or substantial cause of the condition, only that the "occupational factors significantly aggravated a preexisting condition." 39-72-408, MCA (1971-1999); Polk v. Planet Ins. Co., 287 Mont. 79, 951 P.2d 1015 (1997). Affirmed Montana State Fund v. Murray, 2005 MT 97

Shorten v. State Comp. Ins. Fund [12/22/95] 1995 MTWCC 110 From the fact that claimant may have suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome it does not follow that her syndrome was the consequence, in whole or in part, of occupational factors. She had a prior history of hand problems, her job involved less repetitive hand motion than she claimed, and the medical evidence did not establish a causal connection.

Hanson v. State Compen. Ins. Fund [06/02/95] 1995 MTWCC 42 Where unrefuted opinion of the OD panel physician was that claimant does not have an occupational disease and was not placed at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome by her occupational activities as a personal care attendant, and claimant offered no other evidence linking her mild carpal tunnel condition to her employment, WCC affirms DOL order that claimant is not suffering from an occupational disease.