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Ward v. Victory Insurance Co.

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

August 7, 2019

DANIEL WARD Petitioner
v.
VICTORY INSURANCE CO. Respondent/Insurer.

          Submitted: July 11, 2018

          FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND JUDGMENT

          DAVID M. SANDLER JUDGE.

         Summary: Petitioner asserts that he has CRPS in his left ankle as a result of an industrial accident. Petitioner relies on his current treating physician who, like many other medical providers who examined him, observed some of the objective signs of CRPS per the Budapest criteria, which are included in the Montana Utilization and Treatment Guidelines. Respondent denied liability, relying on the opinions of the physicians who examined him under § 39-71-605, MCA, and one of his treating physicians, who opined that Petitioner does not have CRPS. The psychiatrist who examined Petitioner under § 39-71-605, MCA, concluded that Petitioner has Somatic Symptom Disorder, a psychological condition.

         Held: Petitioner proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffers from CRPS and that it was caused by an industrial accident. This Court gives greater weight to Petitioner's current treating physician's diagnosis of CRPS under the criteria in the Montana Utilization and Treatment Guidelines primarily because his opinion was supported by the other medical evidence in this case while the opinions of the physicians who examined Petitioner under § 39-71-605, MCA, and the treating physician who agreed with them, were not.

         ¶ 1 The trial in this matter was held on June 19, 20, and 22, 2018, in Helena. Petitioner Daniel Ward was present and represented by Matthew J. Murphy and Thomas J. Murphy. Respondent Victory Insurance Co. (Victory) was represented by Jon T. Dyre.

         ¶ 2 Exhibits: The Court admitted Exhibits 1 through 3, 9, 12 through 31, 33 through 65, 67 through 79, 81, and 82 without objection. The Court admitted Exhibits 4, 8, 11, and 66 over Ward's objections. Exhibits 5 and 7 were withdrawn. The Court sustained Victory's objections and Exhibits 6-1 through 6-3, 6-5, 6-7 through 6-14, and 6-17 were not admitted. During the trial, the Court admitted Exhibits 6-4, 6-6, 6-15, and 32. The Court admits Exhibit 10, a written statement of Tyler Brenner, because although a determination in an unemployment insurance case is not admissible under § 39-51-110, MCA, evidence submitted in an unemployment insurance case can be admitted in other cases. Moreover, the parties deposed Brenner and Ward cross examined him on the subject matter of the statement. The Court admits Exhibit 80 for the reasons set forth in footnote 7. This Court excluded Exhibit 83 under ARM 24.29.1595(5)(c).[1] This Court admits Exhibit 84 because Victory cited no authority supporting its claim that this Court may not admit copyrighted materials.

         ¶ 3 Witnesses and Depositions: This Court admitted the depositions of Ward, Riley Silvernail, Tyler Brenner, Jon Robinson, MD, and Bradley L. Aylor, MD, into evidence. This Court overrules Ward's objections to the questions on pages 25 and 28 in Dr. Aylor's deposition because the questions, while technically compound, were not confusing. This Court overrules Ward's objections to the questioning of Tyler Brenner on trial Exhibit 10 because Exhibit 10 is admissible. This Court overrules Ward's objections to the questions on page 18 of Silvernail's deposition because, given the context, the questions were not asking Silvernail to speculate. Daniel Ward, Angel Ward, Ashley Burch, William D. Stratford, MD, Emily Heid, MD, and Michael Schabacker, MD, were sworn and testified at trial.

Issues Presented: The Pretrial Order sets forth the following issues:
Issue One: Whether Petitioner is entitled to acceptance of liability for his February 15, 2016, claim?
Issue Two: Whether Petitioner is entitled to acceptance of liability for his December 13, 2016, claim?
Issue Three: Whether Respondent is liable for Petitioner's alleged Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or a similar condition, which Respondent disputes exists?
Issue Four: Whether Petitioner is entitled to payment of incurred medical treatment costs?
Issue Five: Whether Petitioner is entitled to any further medical benefits at this time?
Issue Six: Whether Petitioner is entitled to any further indemnity benefits at this time?
Issue Seven: Whether Petitioner is entitled to his attorney fees, costs, and/or a penalty?

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶ 4 The primary issue in this case is whether Ward has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) from his industrial accident on December 13, 2016. There is some controversy with CRPS, as it is not currently well-understood. The Montana Utilization and Treatment (U&T) Guidelines explain:

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS Types I and II) describes painful syndromes, which were formerly referred to as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and causalgia. CRPS conditions usually follow injury that appears regionally and have a distal predominance of abnormal findings, exceeding the expected clinical course of the inciting event in both magnitude and duration and often resulting in significant impairment of limb function.
CRPS I (RSD) is a syndrome that usually develops after an initiating noxious event, is not limited to the distribution of a single peripheral nerve and appears to be disproportionate to the inciting event. It is associated at some point with evidence of edema, changes in skin, blood flow, abnormal sudomotor activity in the region of the pain, allodynia, or hyperalgesia. The site is usually in the distal aspect of an affected extremity or with a distal to proximal gradient. The peripheral nervous system and possibly the central nervous system are involved.
CRPS II (Causalgia) is the presence of burning pain, allodynia, and hyperpathia usually in the hand or foot after partial injury to a nerve or one of its major branches. Pain is within the distribution of the damaged nerve but not generally confined to a single nerve.
Historically, three stages were thought to occur. These stages include: Stage 1 - Acute (Hyperemic), Stage 2 - Dystrophic (Ischemic), and Stage 3 - Atrophic. However, the stages in CRPS I are not absolute and in fact, may not all be observed in any single patient. Signs and symptoms fluctuate over time and are reflective of ongoing dynamic changes in both the peripheral and central nervous systems.
Although there has been some debate regarding both the existence and pathophysiologic basis of CRPS, as with all chronic pain, psychological issues should always be addressed, but there are a number of studies identifying pathological findings.[2]

         ¶ 5 CRPS is diagnosed clinically, meaning that there is not a specific test upon which a physician can make a definitive diagnosis. Rather, physicians rely upon a collection of subjective symptoms and objective signs to make the diagnosis. CRPS is diagnosed under what have become known as the Budapest criteria, established by the International Association for the Study of Pain in 1993. The U&T Guidelines have adopted the Budapest criteria to diagnose CRPS.[3] They are:

1. Continuing pain, which is disproportionate to any inciting event.
2. At least one symptom in three of the four following categories:
-Sensory: reports of hyperesthesia and/or allodynia.
- Vasomotor: reports of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or skin color asymmetry.
- Sudomotor/edema: reports of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry.
-Motor/trophic: reports of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin).
3. At least one sign at time of evaluation in two or more of the following categories:
-Sensory: evidence of hyperalgesia (to pinprick) and/or allodynia (to light touch and/or deep somatic pressure and/or joint movement).
-Vasomotor: evidence of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or asymmetry. Temperature asymmetry should ideally be established by infrared thermometer measurements showing at least a 1°C difference between the affected and unaffected extremities.
-Sudomotor/edema: evidence of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry. Upper extremity volumetrics may be performed by therapists that have been trained in the technique to assess edema.
- Motor/trophic: evidence of decreased range-of-motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin).
4. No other diagnosis that better explains the signs and symptoms.

         ¶ 6 A person diagnosed under these criteria can obtain an impairment rating under the 6th Edition of the Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.[4]

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         ¶ 7 The following facts have been proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

         ¶ 8 During the winter of 2016, Ward worked as a laborer for Little Bear Construction (LB), a company that installs siding on houses. Tyler Brenner and his wife Angel own LB.

         ¶ 9 On February 15, 2016, Ward suffered an injury to his left ankle in the course of his employment. At the time of his injury, Ward was making $18 per hour.

         ¶ 10 Ward initially saw a physician's assistant, who thought that Ward had a sprained ankle. However, because Ward's ankle did not materially improve, on April 4, 2016, the physician's assistant ordered an MRI and referred Ward to Jon F. Robinson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon.

         ¶ 11 Victory initially paid benefits under § 39-71-608, MCA, and then obtained an extension from the Department of Labor & Industry. It thereafter accepted liability.

         ¶ 12 On May 10, 2016, Ward saw Dr. Robinson, who specializes in ankle injuries. Dr. Robinson reviewed Ward's left-ankle MRI, which the radiologist read as normal. However, Dr. Robinson noted instability in Ward's ankle. Dr. Robinson explained that when a ligament is stretched and lengthened, it can appear normal on an MRI. Thus, he clinically diagnosed Ward with injuries to the lateral ligaments and tendons of his ankle. Dr. Robinson recommended surgical repair.

         ¶ 13 On May 18, 2016, Dr. Robinson surgically repaired Ward's left ankle, which included reattaching a ligament that had torn off the bone. At the time, Dr. Robinson expected Ward to fully recover in approximately 12 weeks, as more than 90% of his patients with such injuries return to full unrestricted activity with "basically a normal ankle."

         ¶ 14 On July 12, 2016, Ward saw Dr. Robinson. Dr. Robinson noted that Ward was making "good progress." Dr. Robinson advised Ward to transition from a post-surgery walking boot to a regular shoe. Dr. Robinson released Ward to "full unrestricted activity as long as he wears a lace up boot . . . ."

         ¶ 15 On August 15, 2016, Ward resumed working for LB. Ward's ankle remained painful and did not feel stable.

         ¶ 16 Thereafter, LB promoted Ward to a lead installer, a position in which Ward was the person on a ladder or lift taking measurements, telling the laborer what was needed, and installing the siding, soffit, and fascia. Following this promotion, Ward made $19 per hour. Ward's work performance was generally satisfactory.

         ¶ 17 Ward returned to Dr. Robinson on October 6, 2016. Dr. Robinson noted increased pain and swelling, and tenderness over his lateral ankle, all of which was unusual to have five months after ankle ligament reconstruction. Dr. Robinson gave Ward several options and Ward decided to try an ankle brace.

         ¶ 18 Ward returned to Dr. Robinson on December 7, 2016. Ward continued to wear the brace but continued to have ankle pain.

         ¶ 19 On December 13, 2016, Ward reinjured his left ankle while working when his foot slipped off the second rung of a ladder and he landed flat-footed. Ward told Brenner that he reinjured his ankle. Ward worked the rest of the day. However, while Ward was driving home, Brenner called and fired him because of his ankle injury.

         ¶ 20 Victory did not reinstate Ward's temporary total disability (TTD) benefits because Brenner falsely told Ashley Burch, the claims ...


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