Worker not required to show that work injury was primary cause
Case name: Hoffman v. State of Wyoming, ex rel., Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, No. S-12-0092 (Wyo. 12/21/12).
Ruling: The Wyoming Supreme Court held that a worker was entitled to benefits for his fourth back surgery.
What it means:
In Wyoming, under the second compensable injury rule, a subsequent injury or condition is compensable only if it is causally related to the initial compensable injury.
A worker on a drilling rig injured his back when he fell from the rig floor to the ground three feet below. After treating the injury conservatively for several months, he underwent surgery. Six years later, after he began experiencing pain, an orthopedic surgeon repeated the surgery. He had another surgery three years later. He received workers' compensation benefits for his treatment from the date of his injury through the third surgery. The worker slipped and fell on ice at his home. After suffering back pain, his doctor recommended a fourth surgery. His doctor sought preauthorization from the Workers' Safety and Compensation Division. The division denied preauthorization. On appeal, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the worker was entitled to benefits for the fourth surgery.
The worker's doctor testified that it was probable that the worker's condition was related to his third surgery. The doctor said that he did not believe the fall caused the condition. Another doctor opined that the forth surgery and initial work injury "may be related" and that the third surgery "contributed" to the condition that led to the fourth surgery. The court concluded that the evidence showed that the fourth surgery was causally connected to the initial work injury.
The court pointed out that the worker was not required to prove that his work injury was the primary cause for his need for surgery. He only had to show a causal connection. The court also found that the Medical Commission improperly considered the doctor's "financial stake" in the outcome of the case.
A concurring judge opined that a treating physician's payment or lack of payment for treatment of a worker is not the type of financial stake in the claim's outcome that can be used to support a negative credibility finding.
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March 18, 2013
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