Mattick v. Hy-Vee Foods Stores, Case No. A16-1802
In Mattick v. Hy-Vee Foods Stores, Case No. A16-1802, Mattick tripped over a pallet and twisted her right ankle while working at Hy-Vee on January 18, 2014. Mattick had a history of right ankle problems, including a fracture that resulted in two surgeries in 2000. She ultimately underwent an ankle-fusion surgery in 2015. Based on Mattick’s medical records, her testimony, and the four medical expert reports, the compensation judge concluded Mattick’s work injury was not a substantial contributing cause of the ankle-fusion surgery.
Her work injury was “temporary” and had “resolved” before the surgery. The compensation judge found the expert opinion of Dr. Fey to be most persuasive and concluded neither Mattick’s medical records nor the opinions of her treating physicians supported her claim.
The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals reversed, concluding Dr. Fey’s opinion lacked factual foundation and the compensation judge’s finding the work injury was not a substantial contributing cause of the surgery was unsupported by the evidence. The WCCA substituted its own finding that the work injury permanently aggravated Mattick’s arthritis, noting the evidence other than Dr. Fey’s opinions “unambiguously support[s]” this finding.
The Minnesota Supreme Court reinstated the decision of the compensation judge. The Court concluded the WCCA exceeded the scope of its review because the compensation judge’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.
First, the Court addressed the WCCA’s determination the compensation judge erred by relying on Dr. Fey’s opinion because he lacked adequate factual foundation. The Court noted the WCCA rejected Dr. Fey’s entire report based on a few statements he took out of context. Specifically, the WCCA found specific portions of Dr. Fey’s opinion to be suspect, including his discussion of the “expected natural history” of Mattick’s arthritis condition and ankle sprain, as well as his failure to note a 10-year gap in Mattick’s symptoms after her arthritis diagnosis in 2004. The Minnesota Supreme Court noted the specific portions of Dr. Fey’s report the WCCA criticized fail to establish that the report as a whole lacks adequate foundation. Accordingly, the Court concluded Dr. Fey’s opinion rested on adequate factual foundation, and the compensation judge did not abuse its discretion by relying on it.
Second, the Court looked at whether the WCCA erred by overturning the compensation judge’s finding Mattick’s work injury was not a substantial contributing cause of her ankle-fusion surgery. The Court noted the compensation judge’s finding was not only supported by Dr. Fey’s expert opinion, but also by substantial evidence elsewhere in the record. Particularly, Mattick’s testimony that she had experienced intermittent pain and swelling in her ankle for ten years prior. Additionally, x-rays two days after her injury showed “[d]egenerative changes at the ankle joint” and her ultimate diagnosis before the ankle-fusion surgery was “[d]egenerative changes.” Mattick also did not have work restrictions and was able to continue working on her feet 40 to 45 hours per week. Accordingly, the Court concluded the WCCA “clearly and manifestly erred in rejecting this finding.”