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In re Worker's Compensation Claim of Montoya

March 6, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF DAVID J. MONTOYA, AN EMPLOYEE OF KENNECOTT ENERGY COMPANY:
DAVID J. MONTOYA, APPELLANT (CLAIMANT),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING EX REL. WYOMING WORKERS‟ SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Michael N. Deegan, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] David Montoya appeals the denial of his claim for worker‟s compensation benefits. Mr. Montoya claims that he suffered injuries from an accident during work-related activities that aggravated a pre-existing medical condition. The Wyoming Workers‟ Compensation Division found Mr. Montoya‟s condition solely related to his pre-existing condition. The Division‟s denial was upheld by the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The OAH decision was affirmed by the district court. We reverse the decision of the OAH and remand with the directive that the Division award Mr. Montoya benefits.

ISSUES

[¶2] Mr. Montoya presents three issues:

Is there substantial evidence to support the Hearing Officer‟s conclusion?

Is the Hearing Officer‟s decision arbitrary and capricious?

Did the Hearing Officer misinterpret case law and hold [Mr. Montoya] to an improper burden of proof?

FACTS

[¶3] In 1999, Mr. Montoya was involved in a non-work related automobile accident, wherein he was struck from behind by another vehicle. He suffered what was described as "whiplash" injuries, resulting in back and neck pain. Mr. Montoya testified he regularly suffered migraine headaches and impaired vision immediately after the accident but the worst of the symptoms cleared up after about three months. The evidence indicates Mr. Montoya continued to suffer from migraine headaches intermittently after the automobile accident. Secondary to the migraines were vision problems, speech problems and nausea. The physical symptoms, however, did not interfere with Mr. Montoya‟s ability to perform his job duties as a mine electrician.

[¶4] The work-related accident at issue happened on February 10, 2003. Mr. Montoya‟s then current employer was Kennecott Energy Company (Kennecott), where he had worked since about 1997. He had worked as a mine electrician for at least sixteen years in total. On February 10, 2003, Mr. Montoya slipped and fell on ice while at work. Mr. Montoya remembers falling on his side, although he does not remember which side. He does remember losing his hardhat in the fall. Within fifteen to forty-five minutes after the fall, Mr. Montoya experienced a severe headache, impaired vision, slurred speech, and was moderately incoherent. At that time, because his symptoms were similar to those he experienced after his 1999 automobile accident, Mr. Montoya attributed his symptoms to that 1999 accident. Consequently, after discussing the matter with his supervisor and the human resources representative, it was decided not to file an incident report.

[¶5] Mr. Montoya immediately called his physician, Dr. Amin Rasul, and was seen that same day. Dr. Rasul‟s medical chart note states:

The patient came in complaining of having speech difficulty as well as visual changes and trouble with memory. He said he has had these symptoms on and off since the time of his accident. He says that it usually starts in his lower back and he does hurt all over. He feels like there are pins and needles and this is usual with his migraine headaches. If he sleeps it off, he gets better. He gets tunnel vision where he sees in the middle, but not in the periphery. His vision gets really fuzzy in the peripheral. He cannot concentrate. He describes his vision as getting very blurry and it looks like he is seeing through a cloud of smoke. He has been taking chiropractic treatments, but not in the last few weeks, and since then his headaches have been coming on progressively. He has not been getting chiropractic treatment because he has started on the Project 108, according to him, as of January 1st. He also at the present time of this visit denies significant headache and says headache has subsided some. He denies numbness and tingling. He denies visual symptoms right now. . . . He also does not have any speech problems right now. This morning when he woke up he did have that.

[¶6] By letter dated February 12, 2003, the human resources representative from the mine contacted Dr. James Naramore, requesting he conduct a functional capacity evaluation of Mr. Montoya. In the letter, she stated she was concerned about Mr. Montoya‟s ability to perform his job safely because of the symptoms he had displayed when she saw him after his fall at work two days earlier. She related to Dr. Naramore that Mr. Montoya had not been harmed in the fall, but rather all his symptoms stemmed from the 1999 automobile accident. She concluded by stating Mr. Montoya had been placed on medical leave and would not be allowed to return until he received a medical release.

[¶7] What followed was a battery of medical examinations. Dr. Naramore saw Mr. Montoya for the first time on February 12, 2003. In his note from the examination, Dr. Naramore related the history of Mr. Montoya‟s automobile accident in 1999 but said nothing about Mr. Montoya‟s fall at work on February 10, 2003. Dr. Naramore summed up the history he was aware of by stating:

This patient has "migraine headaches" which evidently occurred Monday. They have been less frequent than they were initially. He had not had a migraine for some time but on Monday evidently was having one and could not track with his supervisors. He began stuttering on Monday, complained of a headache and evidently was unable to continue doing his work.

Dr. Naramore‟s physical examination of Mr. Montoya revealed Mr. Montoya was suffering from short-term memory loss. The results of the exam were otherwise unremarkable.

[¶8] Mr. Montoya continued treating with Dr. Naramore. In consultation with Dr. Naramore, Mr. Montoya simultaneously received treatment from Dr. Tuenis Zondag of Central Wyoming Neurosurgery. Despite their best efforts, Mr. Montoya continued to suffer migraine headaches. In order to rule out a closed head injury, Dr. Zondag ordered a brain MRI, which was conducted on March 31, 2003. The results of the brain MRI were normal (except for a sinus condition not at issue).

[¶9] By the end of April 2003, Mr. Montoya told Dr. Naramore that he felt good and would like to return to work. Having found no permanent injury and believing Mr. Montoya‟s migraines were being adequately controlled with medication, Dr. Naramore gave Mr. Montoya an unconditional work release.

[¶10] Mr. Montoya returned to his job as a mine electrician for Kennecott in early May. Mr. Montoya testified that after he returned to work he had trouble doing tasks that used to be easy for him:

Q: Did you experience problems performing your job ...


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