Baker v. Rapid City Reg'l Hosp., #29753

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtJENSEN, Chief Justice
Citation978 N.W.2d 368
Parties William BAKER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. RAPID CITY REGIONAL HOSPITAL and Hartford Insurance, Defendants and Appellees.
Docket Number#29753
Decision Date20 July 2022

978 N.W.2d 368

William BAKER, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
RAPID CITY REGIONAL HOSPITAL and Hartford Insurance, Defendants and Appellees.

#29753

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

ARGUED APRIL 26, 2022
OPINION FILED July 20, 2022


MICHAEL J. SIMPSON of Julius & Simpson, LLP, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

JENNIFER L. WOSJE of Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, P.C., Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendants and appellees.

JENSEN, Chief Justice

¶1.] During his employment at Rapid City Regional Hospital (RCRH), William Baker sustained two work-related head injuries that he claimed caused him ongoing mental impairments. Baker filed a petition with the Department of Labor and Regulation (Department) seeking workers’ compensation benefits from RCRH and its insurer, Hartford Insurance (Insurer), including a determination that he was permanently totally disabled. The Department denied the claim finding that Baker failed to prove that his work injuries were a major contributing cause of his mental impairments and that he failed to establish he was permanently totally disabled. Baker appealed the Department's decision to the circuit court, which reversed and remanded the Department's decision on causation but affirmed the Department's determination that Baker was not permanently totally disabled. Baker appeals, arguing that the Department and circuit court erred in determining he was not permanently totally disabled. We affirm.

Background

[¶2.] Baker was born on June 3, 1962. While he attended post-secondary school in the 1980s, he did not earn a degree.

[978 N.W.2d 371

From 1981 to 2015, Baker was employed by RCRH in various capacities, including as a custodian, psychiatric aide, life coach, and psychiatric technician. On November 7, 2013, while working as a psychiatric technician, Baker was attacked by a patient and struck across the head. Baker neither lost consciousness nor had any visible injuries, but he later sought treatment at RCRH's emergency room (ER) complaining of a headache. Baker's head CAT (CT) scan and Glasgow Coma Scale test (an exam that tests a patient's eye movement, speech/verbal skills, and motor skills) were both normal. Baker was prescribed Naprosyn—an anti-inflammatory medication. He returned to the ER a few days later claiming that he lost his prescription. The corresponding medical record from the visit noted a head contusion and included a clinical impression that Baker sustained a closed head injury. Baker did not seek additional treatment regarding this incident and returned to work.

¶3.] On December 11, 2014, Baker was again attacked and hit on the head by a patient while working at RCRH. Baker did not lose consciousness, but he visited the ER the following day complaining of a headache, nausea, and dizziness. Baker's CT scan and Glasgow Coma Scale test were both normal, and he returned to work a few days later. On December 23, 2014, Baker visited Dr. Carson Phillips, a family medicine physician, complaining of mental fogginess and dizziness. During the examination, Baker failed an Ocular Convergence Test, a test used to measure the distance at which your eyes focus on an object without double vision. Dr. Phillips diagnosed Baker with Post-Concussive Syndrome (PCS ) and referred Baker to Dr. Theresa Hastings, a psychologist, for a neuropsychological evaluation.

[¶4.] Baker underwent the neuropsychological evaluation on December 26, 2014. Dr. Hastings noted Baker complained of fogginess, dizziness, and fatigue, among other symptoms. Dr. Hastings opined that Baker suffered from PCS and that he had deficits in short term memory, anxiety, and processing speed. Dr. Hastings ordered Baker off work until cleared by his physician, noting that Baker would be at risk of permanent brain damage or death if he returned to work. On February 3, 2015, Baker saw Dr. Daniel Berens, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, who noted that Baker's symptoms were slowly improving and that Baker wished to get back to work at RCRH. Dr. Berens directed Baker to resume work for four hours at a time and to slowly progress to working eight hours by the end of February.

[¶5.] On February 20, 2015, Baker saw Dr. Steven Hata, a neurologist. Dr. Hata diagnosed Baker with PCS, vertigo, mild cognitive disorder, and hypersomnia with sleep apnea. Dr. Hata noted that "patients [who] develop post-traumatic syndrome after a concussion actually have a higher risk of having these symptoms if the concussion was mild rather than severe." However, Dr. Hata also noted that Baker believed his cognitive deficits had improved by 75%. In March 2015, Baker returned to RCRH seeking medical care. He complained of light-headedness and vertigo; he asserted that the variability of the symptoms depended on the stress levels at work. Dr. Patrick Blair, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, recommended Baker take a couple weeks off of work "to focus on himself, cognitive rest, and work[ ] on his sleep[.]" Approximately one month later, in April 2015, Baker again met with Dr. Blair and indicated anxiety, irritability, and fear. Dr. Blair noted that "all of these symptoms are related to [Baker's] work ... and [ ] seem to have more of a psychological component than [a] physical one."

[978 N.W.2d 372

He further opined that Baker's symptoms, in large part, aligned with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

¶6.] Dr. Hastings completed another neuropsychological evaluation on April 14, 2015, which produced similar results to Baker's prior evaluation. Baker scored in the borderline range in psychomotor processing speed, auditory working memory, and mental control; he was below average in verbal learning and visual attention. Further, Baker's oral processing speed was in the severe range. Meanwhile, Baker's "[m]ultitasking, mental flexibility, proceeding of semantic memory, and verbal fluency were in the average range." Dr. Hastings diagnosed Baker with Anxiety Disorder and Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depression, both of which were due to PCS. Dr. Hastings also noted that Baker suffered from "some traumatic stress related anxiety" and that "[h]e easily flinches if someone makes a quick movement near him[.]"

[¶7.] Baker visited Dr. Hata on April 23, 2015, reporting increased anxiety, dizziness, vertigo, and cognitive deficits. Dr. Hata noted that Baker was oriented, had a normal attention span, and that he had an appropriate mood and affect. Dr. Hata also noted that Baker's remote memory was intact but that his recent memory was impaired. Dr. Hata believed Baker's PCS remained and concluded that Baker's anxiety disorder had developed into PTSD. Dr. Hata recommended the following: (1) psychiatric referral to Dr. Hamlyn; (2) psychotherapy with Dr. Hastings; (3) Baker be removed from direct patient care;1 (4) follow-up appointment in three months; and (5) neuropsychological testing in no less than six months. Baker met with Dr. Hata again in July 2015 and reported agoraphobia—the fear of crowded places. Baker also complained of loud noises and that he wanted to withdraw from social interactions due to his anxiety. Dr. Hata again concluded that Baker was suffering from PTSD and other symptoms. Baker refused Dr. Hata's recommendation to see Dr. Scott Cherry, a neuropsychologist, stating he did "not like Dr. Cherry."

[¶8.] RCRH and its Insurer hired Dr. Thomas Gratzer, a psychiatrist, to conduct an Independent Medical Examination (IME) of Baker on June 27, 2015. Dr. Gratzer met with Baker and reviewed his medical records. Dr. Gratzer concluded that Baker's PTSD was in remission as he "did not demonstrate objective manifestations of PTSD[.]" Dr. Gratzer acknowledged Baker's reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, however, he noted these symptoms were improving with medication. The IME report contains various observations by Dr. Gratzer, namely Baker's anger and irritability surrounding the evaluation and his reluctance to answer questions. Dr. Gratzer concluded that Baker did "not have a psychiatric condition at the present time" and that Baker was "not disabled from working as the result of any psychiatric condition[.]" Dr. Gratzer further noted "to the extent that [ ] Baker has realistic worries about being reinjured at work due to the nature of his employment, this is separate from a psychiatric condition, impairment, limitation, or restriction." Dr. Gratzer recommended Baker receive ongoing psycho-pharmacological treatment.

[978 N.W.2d 373

[¶9.] On June 27, 2015, following a referral from Dr. Gratzer, Dr. Marvin Logel, a psychologist, examined Baker using a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2-Restructured Form (MMPI-2-RF).2 However, Dr. Logel invalidated the test results due to his conclusion that Baker demonstrated elevated infrequent responses.3 Baker later participated in a second MMPI-2-RF conducted by Dr. Dewy Ertz, a psychologist, at the request of Dr. Stephen Manlove, a psychiatrist hired by Baker to provide expert opinions in the case. The second test was also invalidated for similar reasons.

¶10.] In August 2015, Dr. Hata met with Baker and labeled Baker's PTSD as severe. He disagreed with Dr. Gratzer's IME report, which indicated Baker's PTSD had resolved. Dr. Hata discussed additional medication with Baker but deferred to Dr. Hamlyn and Dr. Hastings. In July 2016, Dr. Hata recounted Baker's history and noted that Baker continued to suffer from many of the...

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