Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Bright v. Montana State Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

November 1, 2018

MONTANA STATE FUND Respondent/Insurer.

          Submitted: April 11, 2018




Petitioner suffered a back injury in 1994 while working at DPHHS. He retired from DPHHS in 2009, but continued his second job at a retail store, where he was frequently required to lift up to 40 pounds and occasionally required to lift up to 100 pounds. His back pain worsened, but Respondent denied further liability for his condition in 2014, relying on Petitioner's treating physician's opinion that his low back was aggravated by lifting at the retail store. Petitioner resigned from the retail store in 2015, claiming that he could no longer work, in part, because of his back condition. Petitioner seeks TTD or PTD benefits from the date he resigned, asserting that his back condition is a natural progression of his 1994 injury. Respondent asserts that it is not liable for TTD or PTD benefits because, inter alia, Petitioner's work at the retail store aggravated his low-back condition and he has not returned to baseline.

         Held: Respondent is not liable for TTD or PTD benefits. Petitioner's asserted inability to work is not the result of a natural progression of his 1994 injury; rather, his work at the retail store aggravated his back condition and he has not returned to baseline.

         ¶ 1 The trial in this matter was held on April 11, 2018, in Helena, Montana. Petitioner Michael P. Bright was present and represented by John C. Doubek. Melissa Quale represented Respondent Montana State Fund (State Fund). Jacqui Garcia, Claims Manager for State Fund, was also present.

         ¶ 2 Exhibits: The Court admitted Exhibits 1 through 18 without objection. Bright withdrew Exhibit 19. After trial, State Fund moved to reopen the record to add a response to questions it had sent to Matthew McLaren, MD. This Court ruled that it would allow State Fund to reopen the record on the condition that it deposed Dr. McLaren, so he could explain his answer and be subject to cross examination. State Fund declined to depose Dr. McLaren and, therefore, this Court denied its Motion to Reopen the Record.

         ¶ 3 Witnesses and Depositions: This Court admitted Bright's deposition into evidence. Valerie Bright, Bright, and Garcia were sworn and testified at trial.

         ¶ 4 Issues Presented: In the Pretrial Order, the parties state that the issues for this Court to decide are whether State Fund is liable for temporary total disability (TTD) or permanent total disability (PTD) benefits from the day Bright stopped working at Dollar Tree. Nonetheless, in Petitioner's Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment, and at trial, Bright asked this Court to rule that he is currently entitled to medical benefits and that he will be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits at age 67. However, this Court does not address issues that are not presented in the Pretrial Order;[1] thus, this decision is limited to whether State Fund is liable for TTD or PTD benefits.


         ¶ 5 This Court finds the following facts by a preponderance of the evidence.

         ¶ 6 In 1982 or 1983, prior to the incident giving rise to this claim, Bright worked for the Department of Revenue, Liquor Division, as a warehouseman. While he was working in that capacity, a shipping pallet he was standing on gave out from underneath. He landed on the floor and injured his back.

         ¶ 7 Orthopedist Brooke Hunter, MD, saw Bright at various times since then for significant flare-ups of his back pain.

         ¶ 8 In 1990, the Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) hired Bright as a case manager. In that position, he was responsible for managing a caseload; he interviewed people and determined their eligibility and continuing eligibility for social programs.

         ¶ 9 On July 1, 1994, Bright injured his low back while moving some file cabinets at work.

         ¶ 10 State Fund accepted liability for Bright's low-back injury and paid medical benefits, as well as a 7% whole person impairment.

          ¶ 11 Bright returned to work four days after the incident and continued in his time-of-injury position while he underwent treatment for his back.

         ¶ 12 Dr. Hunter saw Bright on August 24, 1994 and documented the July 1 incident. He noted that Bright had increased back pain going down to his ankles in an L-5 distribution. He gave Bright Tylenol #3 and Ibuprofen and told him to call in if he was not doing better in a few weeks.

         ¶ 13 Bright returned to see Dr. Hunter in 1995 for a flare-up of his back pain. He also had pain in his lateral calf and down to the toes.

         ¶ 14 In 1996, Bright became a fraud investigator at DPHHS.

         ¶ 15 Bright saw Dr. Hunter again in 1997 for a recurrence of low-back pain. Bright had had locking up and pain down into the buttocks, as well as right-leg pain down into the calf, and numbness down into the heel. X-rays were taken of flexion and extension views, which revealed complete obliteration of the L-5, S-1 space with vacuum phenomena but no gross instability.

         ¶ 16 In February 1998, Sandra H. Rincon, an adjuster for State Fund, wrote to Dr. Hunter to clarify several issues with regard to Bright's claim. In particular, she asked whether Bright's L5-S1 condition was related to the injury of July 1, 1994, to which Dr. Hunter answered "Yes."

         ¶ 17 Following another flare-up of Bright's back pain, Dr. Hunter ordered a lumbar MRI, which Bright had on May 1, 1998. Dan Alzheimer, MD, had the following impression:

1. Discal desiccation of L3 inferiorly.
2. Significant discal narrowing at L5-1.
3. Modic Type II Endplate changes at L5-S1.
4. No evidence of spinal stenosis.
5. Marked improvement of the herniated discs seen at S1 previously [in a 1993 MRI].

         ¶ 18 Dr. Hunter referred Bright to see Ronald K. Hull, MD, a pain management consultant, on May 21, 1998. After an evaluation, Dr. Hull made the following assessment:

The patient's symptoms are associated with documented objective degenerative disc disease most severe at L5-S1 with a prior history of a herniated L5-S1 intervertebral disc which has improved since 1993. . . . I suspect he may well have some degree of mechanical low back pain with the associated degenerative disc disease and some degree of facet arthrosis.
More importantly, I am concerned that there is a likelihood of psychologic and emotional factors influencing the patient's perception of pain based on the fact that his pain condition is so long-standing. Plus, he does exhibit four positive Waddell's findings on examination.

         Dr. Hull recommended that Bright undergo a chronic pain psychologic evaluation before any other medical investigations or treatment.

         ¶ 19 Upon review of Dr. Hull's report with Bright, Dr. Hunter explained that Bright did not have a "surgical spine problem," and concurred with Dr. Hull about ordering a psychological evaluation.

         ¶ 20 On July 20, 1998, Bright met with Mary K. Bogumill, PhD, a Clinical Neuropsychologist. Dr. Bogumill administered a number of psychological tests, reviewed Bright's records, and conducted a clinical interview. Dr. Bogumill's interpretation was that Bright had a pain disorder ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.