IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF THE STATE OF MONTANA
Petitioner and Appellant,
STIMSON LUMBER COMPANY,
Employer and Appellant,
Respondent and Respondent.
APPEAL FROM: Workers' Compensation Court for the State of Montana
The Honorable Mike McCarter, Judge presiding.
COUNSEL OF RECORD:
Larry W. Jones,
Senior Attorney; Liberty Northwest Insurance
Corp.; Missoula, Montana
Bradley J. Luck;
Garlington, Lohn & Robinson;
Submitted on Briefs:
February 13, 1997
Justice Terry N. Trieweiler delivered the opinion of the Court.
Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation, which insures the
Stimson Lumber Company against workers' compensation claims, filed a
petition in the Workers' Compensation Court of the State of Montana
in which it sought a decision from that court that the disability of
Stimson's employee, Ronald Deschamps, was the result of an injury he
sustained while employed by Champion International Corporation and,
therefore, that Liberty was entitled to indemnification for benefits
it paid to Deschamps.
Compensation Court held that Deschamps' disability was related to
activities he performed while employed by Stimson and, therefore, that
Liberty is not
entitled to indemnification. Liberty appeals from that decision. We
affirm the judgment of the Workers' Compensation Court.
The dispositive issue on appeal is whether the Workers' Compensation
finding that Deschamps' disability was caused by work-related activities
performed during the course of his employment with Stimson Lumber Company
is supported by substantial evidence.
agree that Ronald Deschamps injured his lower back on March 30,
1992, while working for Champion International in Missoula. His treating
Michael A. Sousa, M.D., diagnosed degenerative disc disease with a slight
bulge in the disc between his fifth lumbar vertebra and his first sacral
vertebra. Champion accepted liability for Deschamps' injury and paid
his medical and disability benefits.
By June 25,
1992, Dr. Sousa's records indicate that Deschamps had regained full
range of motion and that most of his pain was gone. On July 6, 1992,
Deschamps to return to work at Champion as a millwright with no restrictions.
By November 17, 1992, Dr. Sousa described Deschamps' problems as "minimal."
On January 28, 1993, Dr. Sousa verified, in a letter to Champion, that
Deschamps had reached maximum medical improvement and that his condition
was stable. At that time, he had pain at the extreme extensions of his
range of motion, but otherwise appeared to be doing well.
Although Deschamps was employed by Champion as a millwright, which was
classified as a heavy duty job and involved machinery repair, he had
been limited to
lighter duty carpentry work since undergoing an angioplasty in 1990.
When he returned to work following his back injury in July 1992, it
was as a light duty carpenter.
November 1993, Champion's Missoula mill was purchased by
Stimson Lumber Company. Shortly before that purchase, or shortly thereafter,
Deschamps was given a pre-employment medical examination to assure that
he was physically capable of performing a millwright's duties. As a
result of that examination, he was found to be qualified to work as
a millwright without restrictions.
working at the mill following Stimson's takeover. For the
first several months, he continued to work as a light duty carpenter;
however, eventually he was assigned to heavier duty millwright work.
Following the change in his work activities, his back became progressively
worse. On June 8, 1995, Deschamps was told by Dr. Sousa that he could
no longer continue working as a millwright due to his low back pain.
He has not returned to work since that time.
During 1994, Deschamps sought additional benefits from Champion due
physical problems he was experiencing; however, Champion denied liability.
In 1995, Liberty accepted liability for Deschamps' claim as an occupational
disease. However, on July 20, 1995, Liberty requested that Champion
accept liability for Deschamps' disability. Champion declined to do
After a hearing
at which Deschamps and Dana M. Hedapohl, M.D., testified, and
after consideration of the testimony of Dr. Sousa by deposition, the
Compensation Court found that Deschamps' work for Stimson accelerated
significantly aggravated his preexisting degenerative disc disease,
and that his disabilitywas not a mere result of the natural progression
of his underlying condition and,therefore, concluded that Stimson was
not entitled to indemnification from Champion.
substantial evidence to support the Workers' Compensation Court's
finding that Deschamps' work for Stimson Lumber Company accelerated
and significantly aggravated his preexisting degenerative disc disease,
and that his disability is not the result of a natural progression of
his underlying condition?
We review the
Workers' Compensation Court's findings of fact for substantial
credible evidence. See Buckentin v. State Comp. Ins. Fund (1994), 265
Mont. 518, 520, 878 P.2d 262, 263. If there is conflicting evidence,
we consider whether substantial evidence supports the court's findings,
not whether other evidence supports contrary findings. See Buckentin,
265 Mont. at 520, 878 P.2d at 263.
testimony is offered by deposition, this Court is in as good a position
as the trial court to determine the weight of the medical testimony.
However, deposition testimony must be reviewed in the context of testimony
from other witnesses who gave testimony that the trial court did, in
fact, have an opportunity to observe. See McIntyre v. Glen Lake Irrigation
Dist. (1991), 249 Mont. 63, 67, 813 P.2d 451, 454.
v. State Compensation Mutual Insurance Fund (1994), 268 Mont. 105,
111, 885 P.2d 495, 499, we noted that:
It was based
on this finding, and its application of the Caekaert decision to this
finding, that the Workers' Compensation Court concluded that Stimson
was liable for Deschamps' disability. We conclude, therefore, that the
Workers' Compensation Court did not misapply the Caekaert decision.
Stimson's second and principal contention on appeal is that Finding
No. 59 is not
supported by substantial evidence. However, after our review of the
record, we conclude that there was, in fact, substantial evidence to
support the Workers' Compensation Court's finding that Deschamps' current
disability is related to his work activities on behalf of Stimson.
that by March 1993 his physical problems from his 1992
injury had stabilized and were minimal. However, when he saw Dr. Sousa
again in April 1994 after he had been working for Stimson for nearly
six months, he had different problems than before and was not doing
as well as he had been. He was experiencing pain in his hip, left leg,
and right groin. He testified that his back-related physical limitations
changed dramatically from November 1, 1993, to June 1995 when he was
taken off work. He could do the work he was released to do in November
1993. He could not do the work in June 1995.
that when he started working for Stimson following the
pre-employment physical examination done on behalf of Stimson, he was
able to and was authorized to work without restriction. However, by
the time he left his job he could no longer perform his responsibilities.
Finally, he expressed the opinion that the work he did while employed
by Stimson did make his condition worse.
his deposition, Deschamps gave the following testimony: