Krumback v. Dow Chemical Co.

Decision Date01 September 1983
Docket NumberNo. 82CA1443,82CA1443
Citation676 P.2d 1215
PartiesFlorence E. KRUMBACK, Widow of Leroy A. Krumback, Claimant, Petitioner, v. DOW CHEMICAL CO., (Employer); Travelers Insurance Co., (Insurer); The Industrial Commission of the State of Colorado and The Director of the Division of Labor of the State of Colorado, Respondents. . III
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

DeBoskey & Hiller, Bruce H. DeBoskey, David L. Hiller, Glasman, Jaynes & Carpenter, Ronald C. Jaynes, Denver, for petitioner.

Elliott & Barbo, James E. Elliott, Jr., Michael J. Barbo, Wheat Ridge, for respondents Dow Chemical Co. and Travelers Insurance Co.

J.D. MacFarlane, Atty. Gen., William Levis, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for respondents The Industrial Commission of the State of Colorado and The Director of the Division of Labor of the State of Colorado.

Douglas Phillips, Denver, for amicus curiae Colorado AFL-CIO.

BERMAN, Judge.

Florence E. Krumback, widow of Leroy A. Krumback, petitions for review of the Industrial Commission's order denying her request for death benefits. We set aside the order and remand for additional proceedings.

Leroy A. Krumback worked from January 1959 until December 1973 at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, a Dow Chemical Company facility. During the course of his employment, Leroy was exposed to over 45 rems of external radiation. He also was involved in a number of industrial accidents as a result of which he sustained internal radiation contamination. Leroy retired from Dow Chemical in December 1973. On January 7, 1974, he died of cancer of the colon. His widow (claimant) filed for death benefits with the Industrial Commission, claiming that Leroy had died of an "occupational disease ... caused by overexposure to radioactive and fissionable materials."

In 1980, testimony was taken before a hearing officer of the Colorado Division of Labor. Testifying on behalf of the claimant were Dr. Alice Stewart, an English physician specializing in epidemiology, and Dr. Karl Morgan, a health physicist. Dow Chemical presented testimony by a biostatistician and a physician specializing in radiology and nuclear medicine.

The hearing officer found that the above experts' testimony was in conflict. He resolved this conflict "in favor of the claimant and conclude[d] that the claimant ... ha[d] proven by competent medical and scientific evidence, both an injurious exposure to radioactive materials and a causal connection between such exposure and the cancer of the colon from which the decedent died." He ordered Dow Chemical to pay Leroy's "medical, surgical and hospital expenses," not to exceed $20,000, and ordered compensation to claimant of $84 per week, not to exceed the statutory maximum sum of $20,266.75.

Dow Chemical appealed and obtained a reversal of the hearing officer's decision before the Industrial Commission. Specifically, the Commission disallowed Dr. Morgan's testimony because, since he was not a physician, he could not supply the " 'competent medical evidence' required to carry the burden of proof under section 8-60-110 [C.R.S.1973]." It also found that Dr. Stewart's testimony was insufficient to support the award because, although she testified that Leroy had suffered "injurious exposure" to radiation, her testimony did not establish that this exposure caused Leroy's cancer and ultimate death. Therefore, the Commission concluded there was "a failure of the claimant to carry the burden of proof that the cancer was caused by the radiation ...," and it dismissed the claim for benefits.

I.

Claimant contends on appeal that the Commission's finding that causation need be established by "competent medical evidence" was in error. We agree.

Prior to its repeal in 1975, 1 § 8-60-110(1)(a), C.R.S.1973, provided, in relevant part, that an employer would not be liable for compensation unless the following conditions were satisfied:

"There is a direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work was performed and the occupational disease, and the disease can be seen to have followed as a natural incident of the work and as a result of the exposure occasioned by the nature of the employment and can be fairly traced to the employment as a proximate cause and does not come from a hazard to which workmen would have been equally exposed outside of the employment. The disease must be incidental to the character of the business and not independent of the relation of employer and employee. The disease need not have been foreseen or expected but after its contraction must appear to have had its origin in a risk connected with the employment and to have flowed from that source as a natural consequence. The burden of proof shall be upon the employee to establish each and every such fact by competent medical evidence." (emphasis supplied).

The legislation which repealed § 8-60-110, C.R.S.1973, provides that occupational diseases in general be treated in the same manner as claims based on occupational injuries. See § 8-41-108(2), C.R.S.1973 (1982 Cum.Supp.). As a result, § 8-52-102, C.R.S.1973 (1982 Cum.Supp.), now controls the decision in all claims proceedings. The evidentiary burden of proof applicable to § 8-52-102 has consistently been held to be "reasonable probability." See Climax Molybdenum Co. v. Industrial Commission, 146 Colo. 558, 362 P.2d 565 (1961); Industrial Commission v. Havens, 136 Colo. 111, 314 P.2d 698 (1957); Ringsby Truck Lines v. Industrial Commission, 30 Colo.App. 224, 491 P.2d 106 (1971). Thus, although the phrase "reasonable probability" does not appear in the statute, it is now the standard in all claims proceedings. All parties concede that such is the standard now.

However, here, because Leroy died in January 1974, and the "competent medical evidence" standard was not repealed until 1975, Dow Chemical argues that the Commission properly applied the pre-1975 standard, and that to do otherwise would constitute an improper retroactive application of the statute. We disagree.

Although changes in statutes are presumed to be prospective in operation, § 2-4-202, C.R.S.1973 (1980 Repl.Vol. 1B), and retroactive legislation is generally not favored, we do not perceive that either of these maxims apply here. Changes in procedural law are " 'generally to be regarded as immediately applicable to existing causes of action and not merely to those which may accrue in the future unless a contrary intent is expressed in the statute.' " Suley v. Board of Education, 633 P.2d 482 (Colo.App.1981). See also Nolan v. Industrial Commission, 664 P.2d 253 (Colo.App.1982).

Although the issue appears to be one of first impression in Colorado, other jurisdictions which have faced this issue have held that changes in the burden of proof are procedural only and should be retroactively applied. Florida Power & Light Co. v. Westinghouse Electric, 579 F.2d 856 (4th Cir.1978); Allen v. Fisher, 118 Ariz. 95, 574 P.2d 1314 (Ariz.Ct.App.1977); United Securities Corp. v. Bruton, 213 A.2d 892 (D.C.App.1965); Bordelon v. Bordelon, 381 So.2d 871 (La.App.1980); State ex rel Sowle v. Brittich, 7 Wis.2d 353, 96 N.W.2d 337 (1959). See also 2 A. Sutherland, Statutory Construction § 41.06 (Sands 4th Ed.1973). We adopt this rule here, and thus, since the hearings were held in 1980, the claimant's burden of proof was to establish a "reasonable probability" that Leroy's cancer was caused by his exposure to radiation during the course of his employment with Dow Chemical.

II.

Claimant further contends that, under either the "competent medical evidence" standard or the "reasonable probability" standard, it was error to disallow the testimony concerning causation by Dr. Morgan, the health physicist. We need not consider whether Dr. Morgan's testimony was competent to establish causation under the now repealed "competent medical evidence" standard, because as we determined in I, supra, that standard does not apply to this case. And, under the "reasonable probability" standard, we hold that it was error to disallow Dr. Morgan's opinion regarding causation.

Dr. Morgan's testimony was clearly helpful in determining the cause of Leroy's cancer. Although Dr. Morgan is not a physician, he is an internationally renowned health physicist who has spent 40 years studying the effects of radiation on the human body. Dr. Morgan was the founder of the Health Physics Society and was the editor-in-chief of its journal for over 20 years. He was the first president of the International Committee of Radiological Protection and was charged with the responsibility for determining international standards for permissible concentrations of radiation in the human body. Dr. Morgan also served as chairman of the National Council of Radiological Protection Committee which established the American standards for permissible concentrations of radioactive substances, and these standards became the basis for Nuclear Regulatory Regulations. For 28 years Dr. Morgan was employed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and was responsible for safeguarding the health of employees who were exposed to radiation. During that period he continually...

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