CATHERINE E. SATTERLEE Petitioner
LUMBERMEN'S MUTUAL CASUALTY COMPANY Respondent/Insurer for BUTTREY FOOD & DRUG Employer.
Submitted: November 7, 1995
FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND
61-year old grocery store checker strained her left trapezius
and shoulder at work. She recovered and was able to resume
checking duties, but suffered disabling pain associated with
degenerative disc disease and arthritis exacerbated by the
injury and by post-traumatic stress disorder and depression,
associated with several tragedies in claimant's personal
Claimant is permanently totally disabled, but her disability
results from psychological trauma occurring subsequent to her
injury. Her claim is not compensable. Note:
this decision was reversed in Satterlee v.
Lumbermen's Mutual Casualty Co., 280 Mont. 85, 929
P.2d 212 (1996), which held that substantial evidence did not
support the conclusion that the psychological condition arose
trial in this matter was held on August 30, 1995, in Butte,
Montana. Petitioner, Catherine E. Satterlee (claimant), was
present and represented by Mr. Bernard J. Everett.
Respondent, Lumbermen's Mutual Casualty Company, was
represented by Mr. Thomas A. Marra. The claimant and Elaine
Seibel were sworn and testified. Exhibits 1 through 7 and 9
were admitted by stipulation. Exhibit 8 was admitted over the
objection of Mr. Everett. The depositions of the claimant,
Robert Buhl, Dana Headapohl, M.D. and Patricia Schendel were
submitted for the Court's consideration.
presented: Claimant asks the Court to determine that she
is permanently totally disabled as a result of a July 25,
1992 industrial injury. She also seeks a penalty, attorney
fees and costs.
considered the Pretrial Order, the testimony presented at
trial, the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses, the
depositions and exhibits, and the arguments of the parties,
the Court makes the following:
Claimant is presently 61 years old. At the time of her
industrial accident she was 57. She has lived for many years
in the community of Anaconda.
Claimant did not graduate from high school but does have a
Claimant has worked as a waitress, a clerk and in a smelter.
During the 15 years prior to her industrial injury, she
worked as a checker for Buttrey Food & Drug.
July 25, 1992, while working for Buttrey, claimant attempted
to turn over a 40-45 pound bag of dog food on the bottom of a
shopping cart. In doing so, she strained her left trapezius
and shoulder area.
Claimant returned to work the following day, but within three
or four hours pain "set in the shoulder." (Ex. 6 at
25.) When she went to work the next day, the same thing
happened. On both days she continued working. On the third
day, however, she was only able to work for an hour or two.
She has not worked since July 28, 1992.
the time of the injury, Buttrey was insured by
Lumbermen's. Lumbermen's accepted liability for the
claim and thereafter paid temporary total disability benefits
until February 23, 1993, at which time those benefits were
terminated. It has also paid medical expenses.
Claimant was a credible witness.
claimant was able to perform all of her job duties as a
checker for Buttrey during the 15 years prior to her
industrial injury. She testified that she never suffered neck
or left shoulder pain prior to July 25, 1992. Medical
examinations following her industrial accident show that she
suffers from preexisting cervical disk disease. However, that
disease was asymptomatic prior to her injury.
Following her industrial accident, claimant was initially
seen on July 29, 1992, by Dr. Zachory Deiss. He diagnosed her
injury as a left trapezius strain and prescribed Flexeril and
Lodine. (Ex. 6 at 29.)
Claimant was then treated by Dr. Ira E. Fender, who first saw
claimant on August 3, 1992, with respect to her injury. (Ex.
4 at 5.) During his first examination, the doctor noted
"muscle strain with spasm" in the upper back.
(Id.) In addition to continuing the medications
previously prescribed, Dr. Fender prescribed physical
therapy. (Id.) Physical therapy began the same day
and continued until October 10, 1992. (Ex. 6 at 47-54.)
August 24, 1992, claimant was again examined by Dr. Fender.
She reported that her back was better, "[b]ut I will not
go back to work in pain." (Ex. 4 at 6.) Despite
improvement, she still had pain in the area of the rhomboid
trapezius muscle and Dr. Fender noted that she still had
muscle spasm. (Id.) Dr. Fender's office note
further reflects that claimant was "under [increasing]
stress." Dr. Fender prescribed Xanax for the
stress. (Id.) He later noted on August
24th that claimant's stress was "not work related
but due to other factors." (Id. at 10.)
claimant returned to Dr. Fender on September 24, 1992.
(Id. at 8.) At that time she reported that her back
was okay unless she used it, but that she experienced pain if
she used her left hand repeatedly or lifted. (Id.)
She specifically noted pain in her trapezius, shoulder and
chest due to muscle spasm. (Id.) On examination Dr.
Fender noted the presence of "mild trapezius
Fender ordered an MRI of claimant's cervical spine. The
imaging was done on September 28, 1992, and revealed:
Spondylosis Is Producing Spondylotic [Sic] Spurs Centrally
and to the Left at the [C]5-6 and [c]6-7 levels causing
borderline spinal stenosis and partial obliteration of the
nerve root canals.
(Id. at 9.)
Fender saw the claimant again on October 13, 1992.
(Id. at 11.) He noted that she still had neck
discomfort and that physical therapy the previous day had
aggravated the pain. He referred the claimant to Dr. Richard
C. Dewey for a neurological consultation. Dr. Fender did not
see the claimant again until January 1995, when she fell and
broke her arm. (Id. at 11-12.)
Dewey examined claimant on October 15, 1992. He reported the
[S]ignificant spasm of all of the trapezius on the left side
in and around the left scapula. On the right side this is not
There is marked tenderness to the interscapular,
suprascapular, and trapezius and poor ROM of the cervical
The MRI scan shows significant degenerative disc disease at
C3-4, 4-5, 5-6, and 6-7 with significant posterior spur
formation. There is no spinal stenosis. Neuroforamina on the
left side can not be adequately evaluated.
There is a significant muscular component to the
patient's symptoms and unfortunately her exercise program
has been defeating any attempts at providing muscle
relaxation . . . .
[T]here may be some underlying radiculopathy but it is
impossible for me to determine this at this time because
muscle spasm is so severe. I will see her
again at any time. I do not feel that this is a surgical
problem but one of muscle spasm. . . . [Emphasis added.]
(Ex. 1 at 1-2.)
Following Dr. Dewey's exam, claimant traveled to Sequim,
Washington to be with her daughter, who was awaiting a
heart-lung transplant. (Claimant's daughter suffered from
While in Washington claimant was seen by Dr. Alvin Harris, an
orthopedic surgeon, on December 23, 1992. Claimant reported:
"The left shoulder constantly burns. I get spasms above
the shoulder and behind it and under the arm. The pain does
not awaken me." (Ex. 2 at 5.) In a letter to
Intermountain Claims of Montana, which adjusted the claim for
Lumbermen's, Dr. Harris commented:
The patient's symptoms strongly suggest a cervical
neuropathy involving the left upper extremity. She relates
this to a work incident having occurred on July 25, 1992 with
symptoms centered upon the left shoulder.
To my knowledge, the patient had no prior awareness that the
problems may have had their origin in the neck. A single
x-ray observed in this office, together with the MRI
indicates advanced degenerative changes in the neck
with spinal stenosis at the C-5, C-6 level, and the C-6, C-7
levels. [Emphasis added.]
(Ex. 2 at 8.)
Harris referred the claimant to Dr. Donna Frankel for a
neuromuscular electrodiagnosis consultation which occurred on
January 12, 1993. (Ex. 3 at 4-5.) After reviewing Dr.
Frankel's report, Dr. Harris commented that Dr. Frankel
"believes that the neck symptoms may be the result of
local impingement from arthritis rather than
a significant radiculopathy." (Ex. 2 at 3, emphasis
February 1, 1993, Dr. Harris responded to questions posed by
Intermountain concerning claimant's condition:
To answer your specific questions regarding the patient's
symptoms being a direct result from the reported injury of
July 25, 1992, I would be inclined to say that the
degenerative changes within the neck preceded that by a
number of years, despite the fact that the patient denies
having prior symptoms. It is possible that the
employment incident aggravated the existing pathology so that
symptoms arose. If the patient's symptoms
resulted from a strain in the neck when she lifted the 40
pound bag of dog food, then healing of the soft tissue
certainly should have occurred within a six week period.
It is difficult to rationalize a permanent partial
impairment related to that one incident. [Emphasis
(Ex. 2 at 3.)
Based on Dr. Harris' report the insurer terminated
claimant's temporary total disability benefits on
February 23, 1993.
Claimant's daughter passed away and claimant returned to
Montana in the Spring of 1993. She sought medical care from
Dr. Michael J. Sadaj, who specializes in internal medicine
and pulmonary disease. Dr. Sadaj had previously treated and
cared for claimant's daughter.
Claimant initially saw Dr. Sadaj on May 10, 1993, for
depression and insomnia. (Ex. 9 at 1.) Dr. Sadaj's office
record for that date noted claimant's recent loss of her
daughter. It also notes that the recent loss was the latest
in a series of personal losses suffered by claimant in recent
years. Specifically, he noted, "She has had quite a bit
of trauma in the last few years with [the] loss of 2
grandchildren, loss of her daughter, loss of 2 husbands, and
loss of a son." The Court notes that the claimant's
son was killed in an automobile accident approximately two
years prior to her industrial injury and that the claimant
was treated by Dr. Fender for depression and insomnia at that
time. (Ex. 4 at 1.) In addition, various records indicate
that in 1993 the claimant's sister was dying of a brain
tumor. (Ex. 7 at 63; Ex. 9 at 6-7.)
Sadaj saw claimant again on May 20, 1993. She was still
depressed and related that a niece and three of her
niece's children had perished in a fire the previous
week. (Ex. 9 at 2.)
During the months that followed, Dr. Sadaj continued to treat
claimant for her depression and insomnia. He referred her to
a counselor (Sue Bennett) and then a psychiatrist (Dr.
Kenneth Olson) for further psychological treatment. He also
treated her for acute medical conditions, including
phlebitis, nausea, vomiting, tremors and chest pain.