Haynes v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Compensation Div., 97-87

Citation962 P.2d 876
Decision Date29 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-87,97-87
PartiesOdell HAYNES, Appellant (Petitioner), v. STATE of Wyoming, ex rel., WYOMING WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent).
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

Donald L. Painter, Casper, Appellant (Petitioner).

William U. Hill, Attorney General; John W. Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; Gerald W. Laska, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Bernard P. Haggerty, Assistant Attorney General, Cheyenne, Appellee (Respondent).

Before LEHMAN, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, GOLDEN and TAYLOR *, JJ.

TAYLOR, Justice.

The Medical Commission awarded worker's compensation benefits to appellant for a seizure precipitated by a fall which had aggravated a pre-existing congenital arteriovenous malformation (AVM). However, the Medical Commission denied benefits for the subsequent treatment to repair the AVM. Finding that the Medical Commission correctly distinguished work-related aggravation of a pre-existing condition from the non-work related repair of that condition, we affirm.

I. ISSUE

Only one issue is presented. Appellant, Odell Haynes (Haynes), states the issue:

Whether the repair of Petitioner's pre-existing arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is compensable under the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act (Act).

Appellee, State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Compensation Division (Division), phrases the issue as:

A. Was the Medical Commission's denial of benefits for the repair of the Employee's preexisting condition in accordance with law?

However, the issue is best stated by the district court in its decision letter:

In a case where the expenses and disability resulting from a compensable injury are severable from the expenses and disability resulting from repair of a pre-existing condition, is the employee-claimant entitled to benefits for the latter?

II. FACTS

Haynes sustained an on-the-job fall on September 18, 1995. Initially treated as a minor injury, benefits were paid for treatment directly related to the fall. On October 22, 1995, Haynes experienced a seizure and was taken to medical facilities in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. There, it was discovered that Haynes had a previously undiagnosed AVM. He was treated for the seizure and referred to Dr. Lee E. Krauth, a neurologist in Denver, Colorado. After seeing Haynes on November 2, 1995, Dr. Krauth noted that "[Haynes] recovered from his seizure without any permanent deficits or sequelae * * *." Dr. Krauth indicated that treatment options were discussed, including anticonvulsants and observation only, and various more aggressive treatments. Haynes chose an aggressive approach for repair of the AVM.

Haynes requested benefits for the expenses and disability resulting from his seizure and also from the AVM repair. Benefits were denied by the Division, and a hearing was held before the Medical Commission. The Medical Commission determined:

Mr. Haynes has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the fall which occurred on September 18, 1995 contributed to a material degree to the aggravation of his underlying preexisting arterioven[o]us malformation, precipitating a seizure on October 22, 1995. The acute care administered to Mr. Haynes as a result of the seizure episode is compensable under Romero v. Davy McKee Corp., 854 P.2d 59, (Wyo.1993). The intravascular embolization procedure, provided to repair this long-standing, preexisting condition, is not compensable under the Wyoming Workers' Compensation Act.

The district court affirmed the Medical Commission's denial of benefits for the AVM repair, and Haynes brought this appeal.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Haynes does not contest the Medical Commission's findings of fact, only the legal conclusion that costs of the AVM repair are not compensable. An agency's conclusion of law is entitled to no deference from this court. We will affirm an agency's legal conclusion only if it is in accordance with the law. Nelson v. Sheridan Manor, 939 P.2d 252, 255 (Wyo.1997); State ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Compensation Div. v. Roggenbuck, 938 P.2d 851, 853 (Wyo.1997).

IV. DISCUSSION

There is no question that Haynes suffered a work-related fall which materially aggravated his pre-existing AVM condition and led to a seizure one month later. The Division has not contested the granting of benefits for the seizure. Nor is there any question that the work-related fall did not cause the need for repair of the long-standing AVM. Although our precedent seems to clearly state the opposite, Haynes argues that Wyoming's worker's compensation law is "all or nothing;" once a claimant's pre-existing condition is materially aggravated, all expenses necessary to care for that condition are payable, without regard to whether they result from the work-related aggravation.

A pre-existing condition may present a compensable claim, " ' "if the employment aggravated, accelerated, or combined with the disease or infirmity to produce the * * * disability for which compensation is sought." ' " Matter of Fisher, 914 P.2d 1224, 1227 (Wyo.1996) (quoting 1 Larson's Workmen's Compensation Law, § 12.20 at 3-276 and citing Lindbloom v. Teton Intern., 684 P.2d 1388, 1390 (Wyo.1984)). The claimant seeking damages for aggravation of a pre-existing injury must prove that...

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