Antonio O. Valdez, Petitioner,
Labor Commission and Unified Police Department, Respondents.
Proceeding in this Court
Ball, Virginius Dabney, and Stony Olsen, Attorneys for
Camille N. Johnson, Kenneth L. Reich, Maralyn M. English, and
Harry H. Souvall, Attorneys for Respondents Judge David N.
Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges J. Frederic
Voros Jr. and Kate A. Toomey concurred.
Antonio O. Valdez, a police officer, experienced back pain
after his patrol car came to an abrupt stop during an
accident. The Labor Commission's Appeals Board denied him
permanent total disability benefits, and Valdez now seeks
judicial review of the denial. We decline to disturb that
Valdez worked as a police officer for the Unified Police
Department. In June 2010, as he was working a graveyard
shift, a car and a motorcycle raced past his patrol car.
Intending to pull over one or both of the drivers for
speeding, Valdez pulled out of the parking lot where he had
been finishing a report. Around the same time, the speeding
car turned in front of the speeding motorcycle, and the
motorcycle hit the car. Part of the motorcycle, presumably
dislodged during the collision, lay in the street. Valdez was
traveling seventy miles per hour in pursuit of the vehicles
when he ran into the dislodged motorcycle part, and his
vehicle came to an abrupt stop.
Valdez reported feeling a "crack" in his neck upon
impact. He also felt pain in his lower back as he exited his
vehicle. Valdez's supervisor sent him home early because
of his neck and back pain, and when he woke up "later
that day, he had a very difficult time getting out of bed
because his back was so stiff."
Over the next two years, Valdez received treatment from
several doctors for back pain he attributed to the accident.
During the course of treatment, in December 2011, one doctor
concluded that Valdez "suffered from pre-existing
diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) of the
thoracic spine, multilevel degenerative joint disease of the
lumbar spine and cervical degenerative changes." His
physical difficulties were exacerbated when, in May 2012, he
hit his head against a vehicle door during "PIT
maneuver" training. Then, in August 2012, Valdez
"suffered a back strain at work when he had hand to hand
contact with a suspect during apprehension."
Ultimately, Valdez's doctors restricted his work
activities. Because Valdez suffers from DISH, they concluded
it would not be "safe [for] him to be exposed to
potentially violent encounters." He was further limited
from lifting more than ten pounds, "stooping, pushing,
pulling or prolonged standing or sitting." Given the
practical implications of these restrictions on the career of
a police officer, Valdez filed for workers' compensation
benefits in December 2012. He requested medical expenses,
medical care, travel expenses, temporary total disability
compensation, and, eventually, permanent total disability
benefits. The Unified Police Department denied that the
accident was the legal or medical cause of Valdez's
The Utah Labor Commission (the Commission) submitted the
medical issues to an independent medical panel, asking it
"to conduct an impartial evaluation of the medical
aspects of this case." Specifically, the Commission
asked the medical panel: (1) whether there was "a
medically demonstrable causal connection between" the
accident and Valdez's then-current back problems; (2)
"the date when, if ever, [Valdez's] medical problems
caused by [the accident] stabilized"; (3) what
"medical/functional restrictions, if any, from all
conditions, whether industrial or non-industrially
caused" Valdez suffered; and (4) what
"medical/functional restrictions, if any, as the result
only of [the accident]" Valdez suffered.
The medical panel determined that the accident aggravated
Valdez's preexisting DISH and degenerative joint disease
of the spine. It also concluded that all medical problems
related to the accident had stabilized by November 2011. The
more recent problems, the panel concluded, were attributable
to "the ongoing progression of his pre-existing
conditions, " and it was this progression that
"limited his ability to continue to work as a police
officer." The medical panel acknowledged that Valdez
"should not be exposed to violent encounters, manual
physical training, or heavy lifting, twisting, prolonged
standing, which will aggravate DISH. In effect, [Valdez] is
limited to sedentary work." But in response to the
Commission's final question regarding what medical or
functional restrictions Valdez suffered as a result of the
accident, the medical panel answered, "None."
The Commission issued its findings of fact, conclusions of
law, and order in December 2014. Relying on the medical
panel's report, which the Commission determined was
"supported by a preponderance of the evidence, "
the Commission concluded that Valdez's "current
physical limitations are related to [Valdez's]
pre-existing DISH condition, not the industrial
accident." Thus, because the accident did not cause
Valdez's "inability to perform former work, "
the Commission denied Valdez's claim for permanent total
Valdez appealed the Commission's decision to the
Commission's Appeals Board. The Appeals Board adopted the
findings of fact and conclusions of law that the Commission
had set forth and affirmed the ...