The Minnesota Supreme Court Scrutinizes the WCCA’s Vacation of a Stipulation for Settlement and Reverses

On June 7, 2017, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals' (WCCA) vacation of an Award on Stipulation based on an unanticipated substantial change in medical condition.  Hudson v. Trillium Staffing.  The employee sustained an admitted injury to his neck, low back, and in the form of traumatic brain and psychological injuries on April 16, 2014.  The parties entered into a full, final and complete settlement leaving future medical benefits open to the neck and low back in June 2015 (presumably medical benefits for the TBI and psychological injuries were closed).  Prior to settlement the employee had been assigned disputed permanent partial disability ratings to the neck and low back, but the psychological condition had not been rated due to the employee not completing treatment with his treating psychologist.  Following settlement the employee began treatment with a new psychologist who assigned 75% PPD and opined the employee could not work.  In July 2016, the employee filed a Petition to Vacate the Stipulation (pro se) based on this opinion, arguing his medical condition had substantially changed since the time of the award that was clearly not anticipated and could not reasonably have been anticipated at the time of the award.  The WCCA agreed and allowed the vacation due to the “far greater” PPD rating that had been assigned.  On appeal, the employer argued the medical evidence relied on by the WCCA was legally insufficient.  The Supreme Court agreed and held the employee had not satisfied his burden of establishing a substantial change in medical condition.  They felt the WCCA failed to sufficiently scrutinize the factual foundation of Dr. Ghelfi's opinion.  Upon their review of the records, the Court felt Dr. Ghelfi's opinion was descriptively flawed because it never indicated what facts formed the basis for her opinion the TBI warranted a PPD rating of 75% and it did not explain how she calculated such a high rating.  The factual support for the rating of the employee requiring “sheltering” and “some supervision of all activities” was also lacking as there was nothing in the record indicating this was needed.  Rather, the record showed the employee had considerable independence in daily activities, lived on his own, cared for his son and managed his own finances and medications.  This demonstrated the employee was capable of caring for himself without supervision of any activities, “let alone all activities.”  The Court therefore concluded Dr. Ghelfi's PPD rating was manifestly contrary to the facts in the record and the WCCA's reliance on it was an abuse of discretion in vacating the Stipulation.

What should we take away from this case?  This case represents another case in the Supreme Court's trend of reversing the WCCA.

Contact the O’Meara Leer Wagner and Kohl Workers Compensation Team for more information or representation.