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The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a decision by the WCCA, and held that the WCCA erred when it found that an expert opinion lacked adequate foundation.
In this case, Debra Mattick (“Employee”) sustained a non-work-related injury to her right ankle in 2000. She underwent two surgeries, and eventually was able to engage in recreational activities including sand volleyball and biking. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic arthritis, and had periodic pain. She returned to work as a cake decorator at Hy-Vee in 2001, working 40-45 hours per week. In 2004, the Employee tripped over a pallet while working at Hy-Vee and twisted her right ankle. She filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking reimbursement for an ankle-fusion surgery. At the Hearing, the compensation judge denied the Employee’s claim for surgery and found that the injury was temporary and had fully resolved. The judge relied on the expert opinion of Dr. Fey and concluded that neither the Employee’s medical records nor the opinions of her treating physicians supported her claim.
The case was appealed to the WCCA, which reversed the compensation judge’s decision and concluded that Dr. Fey’s report lacked adequate factual foundation. The WCCA found that Dr. Fey’s report was suspect, including his discussion of the Employee’s arthritis condition and ankle sprain, and well as his failure to note a 10-year gap in the Employee’s symptoms. Due to this, they found the report to be lacking in adequate foundation.
The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the WCCA’s decision and reinstated the findings of the compensation judge. The Supreme Court noted that an expert opinion lacks foundation when (1) the opinion does not include the facts and/or data upon which the expert relied in forming the opinion, (2) it does not explain the basis for the opinion, or (3) the facts assumed by the expert in rendering an opinion are not supported by the evidence. Hudson v. Trillium Staffing, 2017 WL 2458132 (Minn. June 7, 2017). The Supreme Court, however, analyzed Dr. Fey’s report based on these factors and found that the report clearly recounted and analyzed the specifics of the Employee’s injuries before opining on the potential aggravation of her arthritis in her ankle, and it was adequately supported by factual foundation. A few statements in the report taken out of context is not enough to discredit the entire report. In conclusion, the Supreme Court found that the WCCA erred, and that the compensation judge properly relied on Dr. Fey’s report.
As the takeaway, the Minnesota Supreme Court reiterated the WCCA’s appellate standard of review under Hengemuhle for the past three decades: the WCCA exceeds its scope of review when it rejects a Compensation Judge’s findings that are supported by substantial evidence and substitutes its own findings.
The case Mattick v. Hy-Vee Foods Stores, A16-1802 and can be found here: http://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/Appellate/Supreme%20Court/Standard%20Opinions/OPA161802-071217.pdf