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Loranger v. Montana State Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

December 18, 2019

WILLIAM L. LORANGER Petitioner
v.
MONTANA STATE FUND Respondent/Insurer.

          Submitted: December 10, 2019

          ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DAVID S. SANDLER JUDGE.

         Summary: Respondent moves for summary judgment, asserting that Petitioner's claim for PTD benefits - which is based on the combined sequalae of three industrial injuries - is premature because Petitioner has not yet returned to MMI for his right knee injury following right knee surgery and, based on Petitioner's attorney's assertions, is not at MMI for his cervical spine injury. Petitioner has not presented evidence that he is currently at MMI for his right knee injury nor that he is still at MMI for his cervical spine injury, but asserts that this Court can still determine that he is entitled to PTD benefits. In the alternative, Petitioner asserts that this Court should hold a trial to determine whether he is entitled to TTD benefits.

         Held: Respondent is entitled to summary judgment because Petitioner's claim for PTD benefits is premature. This Court has previously ruled that when a claim for PTD benefits is based on the sequalae from multiple injuries, the claimant must be at MMI for each injury before he is eligible for PTD benefits. Petitioner has not presented sufficient evidence from which this Court could find that he is currently at MMI for either his right knee injury or his cervical spine injury. This Court cannot hold a trial to determine Petitioner's entitlement to TTD benefits because the parties have not mediated that issue; therefore, this Court does not currently have jurisdiction over that dispute.

         ¶ 1 Respondent Montana State Fund (State Fund) moves for summary judgment, asserting that Petitioner William L. Loranger's claim for permanent total disability (PTD) benefits is premature because Loranger is no longer at maximum medical improvement (MMI) for his right knee injury.

         ¶ 2 Loranger asserts that, even assuming he is not currently at MMI for his right knee injury, he remains eligible for PTD benefits. In the alternative, Loranger argues that this Court should hold a trial to determine whether he is entitled to temporary total disability (TTD) benefits.

         ¶ 3 This Court held a hearing on December 10, 2019.

         ¶ 4 For the foregoing reasons, this Court grants State Fund's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         FACTS

         ¶ 5 On August 29, 1987, Loranger suffered a left knee injury while working for Pintler Outfitters. State Fund accepted liability for this claim. In 1990, Loranger reached MMI for his left knee injury.

         ¶ 6 On December 4, 1993, Loranger suffered a right knee injury while working for Montana Developmental Center. State Fund accepted liability for this claim. In 1996, Loranger reached MMI for his right knee injury.

         ¶ 7 On February 5, 2008, Loranger suffered a cervical spine injury while working for Montana State Prison. State Fund accepted liability for this claim. On June 9, 2008, Michael T. Gallagher, MD, determined that Loranger was at MMI for his cervical spine injury.

         ¶ 8 Loranger retired from his job at the Montana State Prison on October 30, 2018.

         ¶ 9 Loranger asserts that the pain from his injuries forced him to retire, and that, at the time of his retirement, he required additional treatment for his right knee injury and his cervical spine injury, including surgeries. On October 30, 2018, Loranger's attorney sent a demand letter stating, in relevant part:

Mr. Loranger has been forced to leave his employment with Montana State Prison as he can no longer endure the pain in which to work. As you know, Mr. Loranger has been battling severe neck pain for many years. His pain has finally gotten to the point where he cannot tolerate his pain to work. He has been on sick leave because of the pain for approximately the last two weeks (and continues to be on sick leave) and his last day of work is today.
Dr. Blavatsky has requested authorization to perform knee surgery. Please approve that authorization. He will also likely require neck surgery in the near future. Please classify Mr. Loranger as permanently totally disabled for both conditions and commence payment of total disability benefits based on his February 5th, 2008 injury date. If you refuse to authorize his right knee surgery or payment of total disability benefits, please set forth your reasons in writing.

         ¶ 10 State Fund asserts that Loranger is not currently entitled to any wage-loss benefits on the grounds that he voluntarily retired for reasons unrelated to his injuries, noting that he did not mention suffering from pain in the letter he sent to the Montana State Prison notifying it of his decision to retire. State Fund also notes that Loranger continues to be self-employed at his business.

         ¶ 11 For Loranger's right knee, Nicholas Blavatsky, MD, diagnosed, "Osteoarthritis . . . end-stage and severe." Thus, on March 28, 2019, Loranger underwent a total knee replacement. Dr. Blavatsky noted that he proceeded to total knee replacement because conservative treatments had not improved Loranger's condition:

A 59-year-old male admitted to the surgical service at St. James on 03/28/2019 for definitive and elective total knee arthroplasty on the right. The patient failed conservative measures including anti-inflammatory preparation, intraarticular injection, activity modifications. X-rays had demonstrated complete ablation of the medial cartilage space with significant adaptive changes of the patellar articulation.

         ¶ 12 On September 17, 2019, Dr. Blavatsky noted that Loranger was satisfied with the results of the total knee replacement and that Loranger had "regained full extension and adequate and functional flexion." Dr. Blavatsky instructed Loranger to commence a home exercise program, to place weight on his knee "as tolerated," and to return in one year for a ...


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