FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND
Parties disputed whether claimant's 1991 and 1993 back
surgeries were related to her 1988 back injury while
unloading boxes for Hennessy's Department Store.
Claimant's 1990 fall and resulting disc herniation, which
led to the surgeries, resulted from her leg giving way, which
was a condition caused by her industrial accident. In
addition, claimant's physician opined that her industrial
injury weakened her back, making her subject to the
aggravations leading to the surgery. The insurer is liable
for the surgeries and for claimant's condition.
and Accident: Aggravation: Generally. Where
claimant's 1990 fall and resulting disc herniation
resulted from her leg giving way, which was a condition
caused by her 1988 industrial accident, and her physician
opined that her industrial injury weakened her back making
her susceptible to later injury, the insurer is liable for
1991 and 1993 surgeries caused by the aggravation.
Medical Benefits: Surgery. Where claimant's 1990
fall and resulting disc herniation resulted from her leg
giving way, which was a condition caused by her 1988
industrial accident, and her physician opined that her
industrial injury weakened her back making her susceptible to
later injury, the insurer is liable for 1991 and 1993
surgeries caused by the aggravation.
trial in this matter was held on December 1, 1994, in Helena,
Montana. Petitioner, Janna Pulliam (claimant), was present
and represented by Mr. Norman H. Grosfield. Respondent,
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty), was represented
by Mr. Larry W. Jones. Claimant testified on her own behalf.
Michael K. Stevens and Loren Hartman also testified. The
depositions of Dr. Brooke Hunter and Dr. Allen Weinert were
submitted for the Court's consideration. Exhibits 1
through 7 were admitted.
transcript of the proceedings has not been submitted to the
Presented: The issue in this case is whether Liberty is
liable for back surgeries performed in 1991 and 1993. Liberty
contends that the surgeries were unrelated to claimant's
March 16, 1988 industrial accident.
Prior to trial the claimant filed a Trial Brief and Liberty
filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Both
parties agree that post-trial briefing is unnecessary.
considered the Pretrial Order, the testimony presented at
trial, the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses
appearing at trial, the exhibits, the depositions, and the
arguments of the parties, the Court makes the following:
March 16, 1988, claimant suffered an industrial injury while
working for Hennessy's Department Store (Hennessy's)
of Helena, Montana. She was unpacking a box of towels when
she felt a pop in her back.
Claimant was thereafter diagnosed as suffering a small
central herniated disc at the L4-5 vertebral level. (Ex. 3 at
1.) On November 4, 1988, Dr. Brooke Hunter, an orthopedic
surgeon, performed a hemilaminectomy and diskectomy at the
L4-5 level. (Ex. 3 at 2.) By the time of the surgery, the
disc herniation had become larger and was prominent to the
right side. (Ex. 3 at 5.)
Liberty accepted liability for claimant's injury and paid
various compensation and medical benefits, including the cost
of claimant's November 4, 1988 surgery.
July of 1990, claimant settled her claim with Liberty for the
sum of $5, 500.00. The settlement agreement reserved medical
benefits for the claimant.
December 14, 1990, claimant fell near her mailbox, landing on
her "rear end." (Pulliam Dep. at 17.)
Claimant experienced severe pain in her low back, radiating
into her legs, and on December 15, 1990, she sought treatment
at the St. Peter's Hospital Emergency Room in Helena.
(Ex. 3 at 12-13.) She was examined by Dr. Hunter on December
18, 1990, and he prescribed physical therapy. (Ex. 2 at 14;
Ex. 3 at 14.) Claimant was thereafter diagnosed as suffering
from a herniated disc at the L5-S1 vertebral level. (Ex. 3 at
20; Ex. 2 at 15.) On April 22, 1991, Dr. Hunter performed a
hemilaminectomy and diskectomy at the L5-S1 level.
1993 claimant suffered a recurrent herniation of the
remaining disc material at the L5-S1 level. On November 17,
1993, claimant underwent a second hemilaminectomy and
diskectomy at the L5-S1 level. (Ex. 3 at 25.)
Liberty has denied liability for the second and third
surgeries on the basis that they were unrelated to the
industrial injury and they were ...