Nelson v. Engineered Polymers Corp., 040699 MNWC,

Case Date:April 06, 1999
Minnesota Workers Compensation
Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals
April 6, 1999
         HEADNOTES          APPORTIONMENT - EQUITABLE; APPORTIONMENT - GILLETTE INJURY. The compensation judge erred in apportioning liability for the medical expenses attributable to a single Gillette injury where there was not almost uncontroverted medical opinion as to apportionment, as required by Michels v. American Hoist & Derrick, 269 N.W.2d 57, 31 W.C.D. 55 (Minn. 1978). Equitable apportionment for wage loss attributable to two separate injuries may be appropriate, but a remand is required for further findings as to causation and the equitable apportionment factors delineated in Goetz vs. Bulk Commodity Carriers, 303 Minn. 197, 226 N.W.2d 888, 27 W.C.D. 797 (1975).          MAXIMUM MEDICAL IMPROVEMENT - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. Substantial evidence, including the employee's treating doctor's testimony, supported the compensation judge's decision as to MMI.          TEMPORARY TOTAL DISABILITY - SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. Where there was no evidence that the employee failed to cooperate with rehabilitation assistance, which was directed toward investigation of retraining, and where there was no evidence that job search was raised as an issue to the compensation judge, the judge's conclusion that the employee was entitled to temporary total disability benefits through 90 days post-MMI would not be reversed, despite the fact that the employee apparently failed to make any search for work during the period in question.          Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.           Determined by Wilson, J., Johnson, J., and Hefte. J.           Compensation Judge: Janice M. Culnane.           OPINION           DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge          SciMed Life Systems, Inc., appeals from the compensation judge's equitable apportionment of liability for wage loss and medical expenses, from the judge's decision as to maximum medical improvement, and from the judge's conclusion as to the employee's entitlement to temporary total disability benefits. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.          BACKGROUND          The employee began working for SciMed Life Systems, Inc. [SciMed] in May of 1991. Her job duties for this employer involved work known as "crimping" or "crimp bonding," a process in which the employee, looking through a microscope, attached valves to heart catheters, using a syringe filled with glue. The employee, who is right-handed, held the syringe in her right hand, using her right thumb to depress the plunger to apply the glue.          At some point the employee began experiencing symptoms in her right index finger, starting with an enlarged knuckle, which her treating physician, Dr. Matthew Putnam, diagnosed as "trigger finger" or flexor tenosynovitis. Conservative care failed to alleviate the symptoms, and on February 27, 1992, Dr. Putnam performed surgery in the nature of an "A-1 pulley release and limited flexor tenosynovectomy." Dr. Putnam ultimately concluded that the employee could not return to crimp bonding and had sustained a 3.6% permanent partial disability of the whole body1 due to her trigger finger condition, which he attributed to her work at SciMed. SciMed, self-insured, admitted liability for a work-related right index finger injury occurring on November 14, 1991.          Following her recovery from surgery, SciMed provided the employee with light work, which the employee left for reasons unrelated to her right index finger injury in about July 1992. Over the next several years, the employee held jobs at Fingerhut and a casino, neither of which required repetitive work with her hands. The employee sought little or no additional treatment for any hand, wrist, or index finger symptoms during this period; according to her testimony at hearing, the symptoms from the November 1991 injury resolved completely after she left SciMed.          On or about August 27, 1996, the employee began working for Engineered Polymers Corporation [EPC] in a job that primarily involved sanding pieces of plastic with a power sander, which she gripped with her hands. This job was full time and included substantial overtime. Within a few weeks, by mid September 1996, the employee began experiencing bilateral upper extremity symptoms, including tingling and burning in her fingers, wrist pain, pain shooting up into her arms, and a ripping or tearing sensation in her palms. These symptoms increased as time went on, especially after thirteen straight days of work, and, finally, on October 8, 1996, the employee sought treatment. Physicians eventually diagnosed bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and on December 20, 1996, the employee filed a claim petition alleging entitlement to wage loss and medical expense benefits from EPC due to "repetitive trauma syndrome - right and left hands." The employee underwent carpal tunnel release surgery on the right on February 10, 1997, and on the left on May 19, 1997. Dr. Putnam performed both procedures.          The employee began receiving rehabilitation assistance in August of 1997. She took a housekeeping job at the Hinkley Casino on November 15, 1997, but she left the job after about a month because it allegedly exceeded the restrictions recommended by Dr. Putnam. The employee then apparently underwent physical therapy for several weeks, after which her QRC investigated retraining. On March 30, 1998, the employee enrolled in a pharmacy technician program.          EPC and its insurer paid...

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