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In re Worker's Compensation Claim of Leib

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 20, 2016

IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF: MARY LEIB, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent).

         Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Catherine R. Rogers, Judge.

          Representing Appellant: Ethelyn (Lynn) Boak, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; John D. Rossetti, Deputy Attorney General; Michael J. Finn, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Samantha Caselli, Assistant Attorney General.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          BURKE, Chief Justice.

         [¶1] Appellant, Mary Leib, sought benefits from the Wyoming Workers' Compensation Division after she developed abscesses in her breasts. The Division denied the claim. Ms. Leib requested a contested case hearing, and the Medical Commission upheld the Division's determination after finding that she had not met her burden of proving that her condition was related to her employment. Ms. Leib appealed to the district court, which affirmed the Medical Commission's order. She challenges the district court's decision in this appeal. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Ms. Leib presents the following issues:

1. Did the Medical Commission in effect increase Appellant's burden of proof to an unsustainable standard of medical certainty by requiring the Appellant to identify the bacteria that caused her infection?
2. Did the Medical Commission give undue weight to the Division's expert witness?

         FACTS

         [¶3] Ms. Leib was employed as a maintenance worker for Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She began working on the grounds of the College in April 2012. As part of her duties as a groundskeeper, Ms. Leib was required to work with dirt that was mixed with untreated manure from livestock kept on campus and from traveling circus animals.

         [¶4] In June 2012, approximately two weeks after she began planting flowers using the dirt and manure mixture, Ms. Leib experienced pain and swelling in both of her breasts. On June 18, she sought treatment at the emergency room. Ms. Leib was diagnosed with mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, and treated with antibiotics and pain medication.

         [¶5] Ms. Leib went back to work and continued to experience pain and swelling in her breasts. She returned to the emergency room on June 26 and was admitted to the hospital. This time, a breast surgeon performed an incision surgery to drain the abscesses in Ms. Leib's breasts and relieve swelling. A culture collected following her surgery indicated that Ms. Leib had a peptostreptococcus (commonly referred to as "strep") bacterial infection.

         [¶6] Ms. Leib returned to work on July 9 and continued to plant flowers with the dirt and manure mixture. Several weeks later, her breasts swelled again, causing her surgical incisions to split open. On August 8, 2012, she filed an injury report with the Workers' Compensation Division. She had a second incision and drainage surgery one week later. A subsequent culture indicated that several different types of peptostreptococcus bacteria were present.

         [¶7] In September 2012, the Workers' Compensation Division denied Ms. Leib's claim for benefits. The Division found that her infections did not meet the definition of "injury" under the worker's compensation statutes and that she had not established her infections were the result of her employment. The Division referred the case to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a contested case hearing. The parties agreed that the case presented a medically complex issue, and the OAH transferred the case to the Medical Commission for a hearing.

         [¶8] The Medical Commission held a contested case hearing on June 6, 2014. Ms. Leib's theory of her injury was that she developed her infection as a result of exposure to bacteria contained in the dirt and manure mixture at LCCC. Ms. Leib presented expert testimony via deposition from Dr. Howard Willis, a primary care physician and ER doctor. He testified that Ms. Leib's infection most likely occurred in the context of her employment. Dr. Willis' testimony was disputed by expert testimony from Dr. Mark Dowell, an ...


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