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Pritchard v. Labor Commission and AutoLiv

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 15, 2019

Martha S. Pritchard, Petitioner,
v.
Labor Commission and AutoLiv, Respondents.

         Original Proceeding in this Court

          Michael Gary Belnap and Stony Olsen, Attorneys for Petitioner

          Mark R. Sumsion and Lori L. Hansen, Attorneys for Respondent AutoLiv

          Jaceson R. Maughn, Attorney for Labor Commission

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Diana Hagen concurred.

          OPINION

          MORTENSEN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Martha S. Pritchard asks us to conclude that she is entitled to workers' compensation benefits because her pre-existing spinal condition was aggravated, or "lit up," while on the job. But Pritchard fails to effectively challenge the finding of fact that her work exposure did not aggravate her pre-existing condition. Pritchard also fails to show that her condition was asymptomatic leading up to the time she claims her injury occurred. The Utah Labor Commission (Commission) concluded that Pritchard's condition was not caused, aggravated, or worsened by her work exposure and therefore denied her claim. We decline to disturb the Commission's order.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶2 Pritchard has a long history of spinal issues. As early as 2007, CT scans of Pritchard's thoracic spine revealed that she suffered from "degenerative disc disease with mild end plate osteophyte formation." In 2009, Pritchard was diagnosed with "moderate annular bulging disc . . ., central mild disc protrusion . . . with mass effect on the central dural sac, mild to moderate hypertrophic facet disease bilaterally, and mild disc degeneration."

         ¶3 Pritchard received ongoing treatment for her spinal problems leading up to the time she alleged her condition was aggravated. Prior to filing her claim, Pritchard's ongoing spinal treatment included physical therapy, injections, and medication consisting of muscle relaxants, pain medication, and anti-inflammatory medication. Importantly, due to her ongoing spinal issues-which Pritchard's doctor noted she had been experiencing for a long period of time-Pritchard received an injection on October 13, 2011, only two weeks prior to the time she claims her spinal condition was aggravated at work.

         ¶4 In January 2017, Pritchard filed a claim with the Commission seeking permanent total disability workers' compensation benefits. Pritchard, who worked for AutoLiv (Employer) beginning in 2007, alleged that she aggravated a preexisting spinal condition sometime between October 30, 2011, and September 13, 2014 (Claim Period).[2] Specifically, Pritchard alleged that during the Claim Period her spinal condition was aggravated as a result of "her cumulative daily lifting of 88 totes that weighed 38 pounds at least 3 times daily."

         ¶5 An administrative law judge (ALJ) held an evidentiary hearing on September 29, 2017. And due to conflicting medical opinions concerning the cause of Pritchard's spinal condition being aggravated, the ALJ referred the issue of medical causation to a medical panel (Medical Panel).[3]

         ¶6 The Medical Panel determined that Pritchard's condition and symptoms were not caused or worsened by her work activities. Specifically, the Medical Panel concluded that Pritchard's "exposure from work activities [for Employer] from October 30, 2011 to September 13, 2014 did not cause or worsen [Pritchard's] medical condition and 100% of her medical condition was caused by her chronic cervical, thoracic, and lumbar degenerative disc disease." The Medical Panel further stated that acute instances of pain with chronic spinal conditions are normal and that "Pritchard ha[d] reported pain before, during, and after the time period alleged to be causative of her condition." The Medical Panel concluded that while Pritchard's work exposure at Employer "may have been associated with recurrent episodes of low back pain, [it] most likely did not cause or worsen" her spinal conditions.

         ¶7 The ALJ found the Medical Panel report to be "thorough and well-reasoned" and adopted its findings. The ALJ also found the report to be consistent with that of Dr. Green-one of Pritchard's treating physicians. Dr. Green not only diagnosed Pritchard with "cervical thoracic, and lumbar degenerative disc disease . . . long before [her] workers' compensation claim," but he also found that Pritchard's spinal issues were "not medically or causally related to [her] workers' compensation claim at all. They are 100 percent related to nonindustrial factors." The ALJ concluded that Pritchard's ...


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