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State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Vannett

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

December 2, 1999

STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND Appellant
v.
WILLARD E. VANNETT Respondent.

          Submitted: November 30, 1999

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

          MIKE MCCARTER, JUDGE.

         Summary: State Fund asked for reconsideration of WCC decision affirming hearing officer's finding claimant suffered from occupational disease. Decision was based on Court's finding physician had conflict of interest.

         Held: Discarding particular physician's opinion and relying on other physician's opinion, which was more reliable than contrary opinion on which hearing officer relied, was not an option Court favored where physician's conflict of interest poisoned handling of entire case.

         Topics:

Evidence: Expert Testimony: Generally. Where particular physician's conflict of interest had poisoned the handling of the entire occupational disease medical review process, Court declined to reconsider ruling affirming hearing officer's decision that claimant suffered from an occupational disease.
Judicial Review: Appeal. Where particular physician's conflict of interest had poisoned the handling of the entire occupational disease medical review process, Court declined to reconsider ruling affirming hearing officer's decision that claimant suffered from an occupational disease.
Occupational Disease. Medical Panels. Where particular physician's conflict of interest had poisoned the handling of the entire occupational disease medical review process, Court declined to reconsider ruling affirming hearing officer's decision that claimant suffered from an occupational disease.
Physicians: Conflict of Interest. Where particular physician's conflict of interest had poisoned the handling of the entire occupational disease medical review process, Court declined to reconsider ruling affirming hearing officer's decision that claimant suffered from an occupational disease.

         ¶1 On October 29, 1999, the Court entered its Decision on Appeal, 1999 MTWCC 66, affirming a Department of Labor and Industry decision finding that respondent suffers from an occupational disease. The Court did so despite its determination that the medical evidence clearly preponderates in favor of the appellant (State Fund). It based its decision on a clear conflict of interest of a physician (Dr. Gary Rapaport) who was employed by the State Fund as a consultant in the case and who then served as chair of the occupational disease panel reviewing the respondent's claim.

         ¶2 The appellant asks the Court to reconsider. It argues that even if I cast out Dr. Rapaport's opinion the medical evidence still preponderates in favor of the State Fund. More specifically, it argues that Dr. Dana Headapohl's opinion that claimant does not suffer from an occupational disease is more reasoned and persuasive than Dr. Ronald Peterson's opinion that claimant suffers from an occupational disease.

         ¶3 I agree with the State Fund's analysis of the evidence. Dr. Headapohl's opinions are in fact more persuasive than are Dr. Peterson's. As noted in my decision, Dr. Headapohl had more information about the claim than did Dr. Peterson and also researched medical literature pertinent to claimant's condition, which Dr. Peterson did not do. Thus, even if Dr. Rapaport's opinion is disregarded, the medical evidence preponderates against a finding of an occupational disease.

         ¶4 The State Fund's argument is nonetheless flawed.

         ¶5 The medical panel provisions in effect at the time of respondent's evaluation called for an initial evaluation by a single panel physician. If either party disagreed with that initial evaluation, then either party could request an examination by a second panel member. The State Fund made such a request, resulting in the designation of Dr. Headapohl to perform a second evaluation. That second evaluation automatically triggered the appointment of a third panel member to act as the "presiding officer." The "presiding officer," Dr. Rapaport in ...


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