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Layton v. Labor Commission

Court of Appeals of Utah

April 18, 2019

James B. Layton, Petitioner,
Labor Commission, Workers Compensation Fund, Winkel Distributing Company, and Federated Mutual Insurance Company, Respondents.

          Original Proceeding in this Court

          Benjamin T. Davis and Stony V. Olsen, Attorneys for Petitioner

          Hans M. Scheffler, Attorney for Respondents Workers Compensation Fund and Winkel Distributing Company

          Ford G. Scalley and Joseph A. Skinner, Attorneys for Respondents Winkel Distributing Company and Federated Mutual Insurance Company

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.


          HARRIS, JUDGE

         ¶1 In administrative proceedings before the Labor Commission of Utah (the Commission), James B. Layton sought workers compensation benefits for lower back problems that he attributes to four separate workplace incidents, all of which occurred while he was employed by Winkel Distributing Company (Winkel). The Commission awarded Layton benefits for the first three incidents, but it denied benefits for the fourth (the 2015 Incident). In denying the fourth claim, the Commission determined that Layton had not proved that his injuries were legally caused by the 2015 Incident. Layton now seeks judicial review of that decision, and we decline to disturb it.


         ¶2 Over a period of eight years, Layton worked for Winkel as a beer delivery driver, a job that often required Layton to lift heavy kegs of beer. During this time span, Layton injured himself in four separate workplace incidents-each involving his lower back-while in the course of making beer deliveries.

         ¶3 The first injury occurred in April 2007, when Layton, while holding a door closed with his left hand, used his right hand to lower a 120-pound beer keg approximately three feet to the ground. During the process, Layton felt a sharp pain in the middle of his back. He visited a doctor that same day, and was diagnosed with "a lumbar sprain/strain with muscle spasms, radiculopathy and left leg pain." Layton underwent twelve chiropractic treatments, after which he noted "no back pain and only some persistent muscle tightness." Later that year, Layton visited another doctor with a complaint of numbness in his leg; the doctor performed a physical exam but did not find any issues. Then, in November of that same year, a spine x-ray was taken that revealed "mild to moderate rotoscoliosis." Layton reported that, while his left leg symptoms had resolved, he was still experiencing pain in his lower back. Despite weekly medication treatments, Layton continued to experience lower back pain while sitting for long periods of time.

         ¶4 The second injury occurred in July 2010, when Layton lifted a 120-pound beer keg into his truck. As he was lifting the keg, he twisted his body and felt a sharp pain in his lower back. He visited another doctor and was again diagnosed with a lumbar strain. A lumbar spine x-ray taken the following week revealed "mild degenerative changes at L4-L5."

         ¶5 The third injury occurred in December 2012, when Layton slipped on ice and fell while in the process of transferring a forty-pound mini keg from his delivery truck to a hand truck. During the fall, Layton felt immediate pain in his lower back, which he later described as being "constant, mild in severity, moderate in intensity, sharp, throbbing, aching and stabbing." A lumbar spine x-ray taken after the incident revealed "disc osteophytes of L4-5 and L5-S1 consistent with degenerative disc disease [(DDD)]," a preexisting condition in which pain is caused by a spinal disc that loses integrity. The injury was diagnosed as a "lumbar strain." Layton was prescribed medication and underwent seventeen chiropractic treatments.

         ¶6 The fourth injury-the 2015 Incident-occurred in January 2015, when Layton lifted an 18-pack case of beer, weighing approximately nineteen pounds, off a chest-height stack. After lifting the case with his arms outstretched in front of his torso, Layton began to pull the case toward his chest, at which point he felt "an immediate electrical sensation travel down his back" and into his legs, causing him to fall to the ground where he was immobilized for a number of minutes.

         ¶7 Following the 2015 Incident, Layton visited a number of doctors seeking treatment for his lower back. In February 2015, a lumbar spine MRI revealed a number of problems, all of which "would be consistent with limited [DDD] of the lumbar spine." After reviewing the MRI, Layton's doctor recommended against surgery and diagnosed him with "chronic back pain, stenosis at L4-5, and disc herniations." In May 2015, a medical consultant for WCF Mutual Insurance Company (WCF)-Winkel's insurance carrier for the first three incidents-evaluated Layton's case. The consultant, a medical doctor, opined that the 2015 Incident ...

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