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Langberg v. State ex rel Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division

March 18, 2009

EUGENE M. LANGBERG, APPELLANT (PETITIONER),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING EX REL. WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Nicholas G. Kalokathis, Judge.

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

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

[¶1] Eugene Langberg suffered two separate injuries to his left wrist while on the job. Ultimately, he underwent surgery on his wrist. The Workers‟ Compensation Division (the Division) covered the initial treatment for the injuries but denied coverage for the surgery. The Division found the surgery to be necessitated by a pre-existing condition that was not materially aggravated by his job injuries. The district court upheld the Division‟s final determination. We reverse.

ISSUES

[¶2] Langberg presents two issues:

1. Did the Hearing Examiner correctly find that [Langberg‟s] condition was a pre-existing condition?

2. If so, did the Hearing Examiner correctly find that the work place incidents did not materially aggravate [Langberg‟s] pre-existing condition?

FACTS*fn1

[¶3] In June 2005, Langberg was employed with the City of Cheyenne, Parks and Recreation Division. On June 27, he injured his left wrist moving a metal picnic table with attached benches weighing over two hundred pounds. Langberg testified he heard and felt a pop and immediate pain in the ulnar side of his left wrist. Langberg also suffered tingling along the lateral aspect of the fifth finger. Langberg reported the injury to his supervisor, who told him to complete an injury report and seek medical attention. An x-ray revealed no abnormalities. Langberg was diagnosed with a wrist sprain and given a wrist splint. The Division determined the injury to be compensable.

[¶4] In October 2005, while still working for the Parks and Recreation Division, Langberg again injured his left wrist in the exact same location while shoveling snow. The pain from this injury was far more intense than the June injury. Langberg notified his supervisor. The supervisor told Langberg to seek immediate medical attention.*fn2

[¶5] At this stage Langberg was diagnosed as suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome in his left wrist. Langberg underwent physical therapy for the condition, but the pain did not resolve. Langberg was referred to Dr. Judson Cook for further evaluation. Dr. Cook ordered an MRI and a nerve conduction study on the left wrist. The nerve conduction study was normal. The MRI showed findings "worrisome for Kienbock‟s disease with cystic degeneration and early fragmentation and collapse along the radial side of the lunate at the scapholunate articulation."*fn3 Dr. Cook referred Langberg to an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Jean Basta, for consultation.

[¶6] Langberg saw Dr. Basta on October 31, 2005. Dr. Basta definitively ruled out carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. Basta took new x-rays of the wrist. According to Dr. Basta‟s notes, the new "x-rays show a little bit of cyst in the lunate. It looks like a little bit of Kienbock disease. His MRI shows the same thing." Because of the suspected Kienbock‟s, Dr. Basta put a wrist cast on Langberg‟s left wrist to immobilize it.

[¶7] In early December, Langberg sought treatment from Dr. Mark Durbin, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper extremity surgery. Dr. Durbin definitively diagnosed Langberg as suffering from Kienbock‟s disease. Dr. Durbin operated on Langberg‟s left wrist shortly after the first visit. Through deposition, Dr. Durbin testified he conducted the surgery "[b]ecause on the MRI it showed that the cyst had some collapse to it, and that he was developing avascular necrosis to the lunate." Dr. Durbin testified the most significant finding of the surgery was his identification "that the bone had minimal vascularity to it, and bone becomes very hard when it loses its vascular supply, so the bone was dying." This is consistent with Kienbock‟s. Ultimately, Dr. Durbin opined that the work injury(ies) materially exacerbated the disease.

[¶8] Meanwhile, on November 14, 2005, the Division issued a final determination denying benefits for treatment of medical symptoms relating to Kienbock‟s disease. Langberg objected to the denial and timely requested a hearing. The matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The OAH granted Langberg medical benefits for all treatments up until surgery, considering those treatments diagnostic. Medical benefits for the surgery, which the OAH ...


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