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Fieseler v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Div.

Supreme Court of Wyoming

September 30, 2013

In the Matter of the Worker's Compensation Claim of Anita J. FIESELER, Appellant (Petitioner/Claimant),
v.
STATE of Wyoming ex rel. WYOMING WORKERS' SAFETY AND COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent).

Representing Appellant: Frank B. Watkins of Frank B. Watkins, P.C., Riverton, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; John D. Rossetti, Deputy Attorney General; Michael J. Finn, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kelly Roseberry, Assistant Attorney General.

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

VOIGT, Justice.

[¶ 1] The appellant suffered a heart attack while working as a medical/surgical charge nurse at Lander Regional Hospital. She applied for benefits with the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division), but the claim was denied. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld the Division's denial of benefits, concluding the appellant did not satisfy her burden set forth in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-603(b) (LexisNexis 2013). Specifically, it found the appellant failed to prove her myocardial infarction was caused by exertion clearly unusual or abnormal to her particular employment at the Hospital.[1] The appellant sought review of the OAH's decision and the district

Page 1234

court affirmed. On appeal to this Court, the appellant claims the OAH misinterpreted the statute governing coronary conditions when it required the appellant to prove that her duties precipitating the heart attack were unusual or abnormal for her position at the Hospital, rather than unusual or abnormal in the nursing profession generally. We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶ 2] Did the OAH err as a matter of law when it interpreted Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-603(b)(ii) to require that the causative exertion be unusual or abnormal for a medical/surgical unit charge nurse at the appellant's specific place of employment, rather than being unusual or abnormal for a medical/surgical unit charge nurse in the nursing profession generally?

FACTS

[¶ 3] On October, 2, 2010, the appellant was working the 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift as a charge nurse at the Hospital's medical/surgical unit. At approximately 10:45 p.m., the appellant and four other employees moved an immobile stroke patient from a hospital bed to an air mattress to allow for incontinent care to be provided. The appellant and another nurse provided such care, and then attempted to move the patient into bed. Soon thereafter, the appellant became nauseous, felt like she was going to vomit, and began to sweat heavily.

[¶ 4] Because of her training, the appellant realized she was experiencing symptoms indicative of a heart attack and went to the Hospital's emergency room. The appellant was admitted to the emergency room around 12:45 a.m., where she was diagnosed with a heart attack. The appellant was life-flighted to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, where she underwent triple bypass surgery.

[¶ 5] The appellant applied for worker's compensation benefits for expenses related to the heart attack, which the Division denied. Applying Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-603(b), the Division found the " [m]edical documentation on file does not support a direct causal connection between the condition under which [the appellant's] work was performed and [the appellant's] cardiac condition diagnosed as three vessel coronary atherosclerotic disease." The appellant objected, and the case was referred to the OAH for contested case proceedings.

[¶ 6] The OAH held a contested case hearing, during which the appellant, the Division, and the Hospital all presented evidence and arguments. The appellant took the position that her burden under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-603(b)(ii) required proof that the exertion leading to her heart attack was abnormal or unusual for a charge nurse generally in the industry. Accordingly, the appellant relied on testimony to this effect from her cardiac surgeon at Wyoming Medical Center, Dr. Eric Munoz. Dr. Munoz did not specifically review the duties and policies for a charge nurse at the Hospital; rather, his opinion was based on (1) the appellant's own account of the facts, and (2) general observations at several different hospitals around the country where he worked throughout his career. Premised on these bases, Dr. Munoz concluded the exertions causing the appellant's heart attack at the Hospital were unusual or abnormal for a charge nurse.

[¶ 7] Conversely, the Division's and Hospital's medical expert testified about causation by comparing the appellant's duties to those of a charge nurse specifically employed at the Hospital. The OAH received evidence establishing the appellant's job description and working conditions for a charge nurse at the Hospital's medical/surgical unit. Also entered into evidence and considered by ...


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