The Minnesota Workers Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) was trampled for diagnosing the claimant instead of determining the facts. Now Minnesota’s Supreme Court has bound the WCCA to consider only information based on reasonably founded evidence presented to the Compensation Judge at trial. The WCCA is no longer permitted to replace trial evidence with its own opinion or conclusions. Diligently prepared cases will now be more difficult for the WCCA to overturn. The Supreme Court’s decision potentially affects approximately 20,000 Minnesota employees who will be paid workers compensation benefits (wage loss and disability) for injuries and health problems in 2017.
The Gianotti Case
School bus monitor Ellen Gianotti hit her head on the console of a bus that abruptly stopped. Directly after the accident would have been the best time to consult a knowledgeable workers compensation attorney. The initial diagnosis was a head injury and cut to her left arm with no concussion. After Gianotti visited doctors with various symptoms, Independent School District 152’s insurer RAM Mutual Insurance Co., approved Gianotti for temporary total disability. After visiting a psychologist, she was diagnosed with a concussion.
Nearly six months later an independent psychologist, assigned by the employer, reversed the diagnoses. The psychologist had newly disclosed facts that Gianotti had been taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs for seven years prior. The Compensation Judge agreed with the independent psychologist and denied that Gianotti had a concussion.
On appeal, the WCCA reversed the Compensation Judge’s decision, agreed with the original diagnosis, and granted Gianotti emotional and psychological coverage. The employer and insurance company then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
That this case proceeded this far emphasizes the need for an experienced workers compensation attorney, from the outset.
Minnesota Supreme Court Decision
The Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the WCCA decision, ultimately resulting in a denial of Gianotti’s compensation claim. The Court asserted that:
- The WCCA should not have ruled on the competence of Dr. Arbisi, the independent psychologist.
- Dr. Arbisi had a good foundation for his diagnosis, and the WCCA had no basis for discrediting his professional opinion.
- The WCCA’s role is not to second guess the Compensation Judge, but to determine if the judge has a solid basis for the ruling, as supported by the evidence presented at the hearing.
This case illustrates the importance of carefully preparing for and presenting relevant facts, because the WCCA’s authority permits a consideration of only the evidence presented at the initial adjudication.