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Snyder v. Labor Commission

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 13, 2017

Raymond M. Snyder, Petitioner,
v.
Labor Commission; Western Construction Specialties; Utah Property and Casualty Guaranty Association; and Fremont Insurance Group, Respondents.

         Original Proceeding in this Court

          Raymond M. Snyder, Petitioner Pro Se.

          S. Grace Acosta and Alisha Giles, Attorneys for Respondent Utah Property and Casualty Guaranty Association.

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          TOOMEY, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Petitioner Raymond M. Snyder seeks judicial review of the Labor Commission's denial of his workers' compensation claim for permanent partial disability (PPD) compensation. We decline to disturb the Labor Commission's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In 1999, Snyder worked for Western Construction Specialties (Western).[1] In July of that year, a hammer fell seventy feet and struck Snyder's "trapezius region" while he worked in an elevator shaft (the accident).[2] As a result, Snyder experienced shoulder and neck pain. After six days, Snyder continued to have shoulder and neck pain, and Western sent him to Work Care for an evaluation and x-rays. The x-rays did not reveal a fracture, and he was diagnosed with "strains and sprains of shoulder and upper arm" and a right shoulder contusion in the supraspinatus muscle-a muscle in the rotator cuff. Snyder told the physician that he had "no tenderness along the . . . right shoulder joint."

         ¶3 As a result of the injury, Snyder was placed on light duty for seven days because his employment as an iron worker consisted of repetitive, heavy, overhead lifting. He started attending physical therapy, which helped with the pain. In a follow-up appointment, Snyder "denie[d] any other signs and symptoms associated [with the accident]."

         ¶4 In October, after Snyder had returned to full duty, an MRI revealed a possible partial rotator cuff tear and a degenerative cyst in his right shoulder indicative of "underlying arthritis." By December, Snyder's pain had increased, and he continued to complain of "pain across the base of the neck area across the trapezius to the superior shoulder area." Work Care's evaluation report stated he still had "full range of motion to the shoulder joint" and full strength. Snyder sought a second opinion from a physician (Physician), who found he had "limited [range of motion] in his neck." Physician told Snyder to begin a "neck stabilization rehab program." The reports of both Work Care and Physician focused on treating Snyder's neck pain, as this was his chief complaint, though Snyder commented that he "still ha[d] some [shoulder] pain with overhead motion."

         ¶5 In March 2000, Physician referred Snyder to a surgeon (Surgeon) to discuss treatment. A year and a half later, Snyder elected to have surgery to repair a possible partial rotator cuff tear and told Surgeon "he just went on a kayaking trip and felt that this may have aggravated [his shoulder pain]." His preoperative report indicated that there was "no evidence of acute fracture" and he had "mild degenerative changes" in his right shoulder joint. During surgery, Surgeon found the supraspinatus tendon was partially frayed but was intact. Surgeon and Physician each attributed the need for this surgery to the accident. UPCIGA paid for Snyder's shoulder surgery and subsequent physical therapy. Snyder also received PPD compensation.

         ¶6 In 2003, UPCIGA referred Snyder's medical records to a second physician (Second Physician) to determine whether the accident caused the rotator cuff injury that required surgery. Second Physician opined that it was "more probable than not that the surgery [was] related to degenerative work related condition[s] rather than the [accident]." UPCIGA then asked Surgeon to provide "information to determine [Snyder's] entitlement to future benefits." Surgeon informed UPCIGA that Snyder had reached medical stability and did not require "further medical care . . . directly relate[d] to the [accident]." In this same document, Surgeon also stated that he prescribed medication for "long term treatment" of Snyder's arthritis.

         ¶7 Six years went by, and in late 2010, Surgeon assessed Snyder "with progression of degenerative arthritic changes in his right shoulder, " leading Snyder to express concerns that "he would not be able to go on a rafting trip." By August 2011, Snyder's degenerative arthritis had progressed, and Surgeon recommended a total shoulder replacement surgery. But Snyder opted to postpone surgery because he had two more long rafting trips planned. In November 2012, Snyder finally had a total shoulder replacement. He was diagnosed with end-stage osteoarthritis and Surgeon opined that the accident medically caused the arthritis and the need for a shoulder replacement. UPCIGA paid for the surgery.

         ¶8 Two years after the total shoulder replacement surgery, Snyder had an impairment rating evaluation and was informed that he qualified for an "11% whole person" impairment rating.[3]In 2014, Snyder applied for PPD compensation for his 11% whole person impairment rating that resulted from his degenerative arthritis. At UPCIGA's request, a third physician (Third Physician) performed a medical examination to determine whether the accident caused Snyder's arthritis. Third Physician opined that the degeneration in Snyder's shoulder was a result of "chronic use" which was consistent with a "gentleman [at this] age working heavy overhead activity all of those years developing rotator cuff disease."

         ¶9 Snyder received an initial hearing on his application for PPD compensation. The administrative law judge (the ALJ) referred the joint medical records exhibit (the MRE) to a medical panel to resolve the dispute as to the medical cause of Snyder's degenerative arthritis. An occupational-medicine expert and an orthopedic surgeon comprised the medical panel. It reviewed Snyder's "relevant medical history and examined him before concluding that the accident did not medically cause the current degenerative arthritis in his right shoulder." The medical panel drafted a report supporting its conclusion.

         ¶10 The ALJ denied Snyder's request for PPD compensation based on the medical panel's determination that the accident did not cause his degenerative arthritis. The Labor Commission affirmed the ALJ's decision. Snyder now seeks judicial ...


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