July 31, 2015
by Megan Vaniman

SBH Prevails before Court of Appeals on Case Addressing Occupational Disease Analysis

Vaniman-Megan_160-x-222In Luton v. Willamette Valley Rehabilitation Center, 432 Or App 487 (2015), claimant filed a claim for right wrist pain.  He testified that on April 5, 2010 he was doing a job requiring him to wrap sticks with a band when he felt a tearing in his cartilage.  He experienced more pain the following week. An MRI eventually showed a TFC tear.  No doctor could definitively state when the tear occurred, although one felt it likely occurred with wear and tear over time. The ALJ determined the TFC tear should be analyzed as an injury and found it compensable.  The Board reversed, concluding the evidence showed the TFC tear occurred over time even though claimant testified symptoms started April 5, 2010, and thus the claim had to be analyzed as an occupational disease.  The Court of Appeals upheld the Board’s decision applying Smirnoff v. SAIF, 188 Or App 438. The court reasoned the ALJ’s focus on the symptoms as the condition was inconsistent with Smirnoff, which requires focusing on the development of the condition, not just the symptoms.  The court also included a particularly interesting footnote:

“We note that a diagnosed condition would not have been required for claimant to litigate the claim he filed for “right wrist pain”…However, our cases require that once the source of pain was diagnosed, claimant needed to prove that the diagnosed condition was compensable.”

What does this footnote mean for claims handling?  The statement is in a footnote and therefore is likely considered dicta and not a holding.  Meaning it will not hold much pull in other cases. However, given the statement it may be prudent to contact treatment providers in claims filed for “pain.” As the footnote states, a claimant needs to prove the diagnosed condition is compensable.  It is likely more difficult to prove the compensability of a diagnosed condition than it is pain.

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