Welder fails to prove work-related lung disease by contradicting doctors
Robinson v. State of Wyoming ex rel. and Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, No. S-07-0277 (Wyo. 04/02/09).
The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the denial of workers' compensation benefits to a welder, finding the medical evidence did not establish his lung disease was work-related.
What it means: When there are two conflicting medical opinions about the cause of an employee's medical condition, the hearing officer is free to determine one expert's opinion is more persuasive as long as the determination is not arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with the law.
A welder and pipe-fitter sought workers' compensation medical benefits for respiratory problems he alleged were related to 25 years of being exposed to fumes, toxic materials and petroleum products in his work. His pulmonary physician, who did not specialize in "occupational" lung disorders but nonetheless had been a pulmonary physician for 21 years, assessed his condition as being interstitial lung disease and bronchiectasis. She opined that "we can only find his job as a welder as the etiologic agent for this" but later testified her diagnosis was not conclusive. She referred the welder to an occupational pulmonary specialist, who stated she could not "say to a reasonable degree of medical probability that [the welder] has a work-related lung disease." The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that the hearing officer was entitled to weigh the experts' opinions and evidence and conclude that the condition was not work-related.
The court further expounded that the hearing officer was justified in relying on the second expert's opinion. It found unpersuasive the welder's argument that his personal treating physician's opinion should be given primary weight. The court pointed out that the second doctor's opinion was more persuasive, given that she had the opportunity to review all of the welder's records, including diagnostic studies performed by his primary physician, she had taken his extensive career and respiratory history, and had tested his lungs.
The court also found the welder failed to show that the hearing officer's decision was arbitrary. The court concluded that the facts of the case supported the expert's refusal to attribute the welder's lung disease to his work and made it unnecessary to go further into the court's decision to accord the second doctor more credibility. The court affirmed the hearing officer's credibility determination and upheld the denial of benefits.
May 14, 2009
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