Davidson v. SRI International

Trial Attorney: Thomas J. Walls, Jr., Esq.
Brief: Ana-Eliza T. Bauersachs

This matter involved a full trial on a Motion for Medical and Temporary Total Disability Benefits before Judge Wojtenko.  The petitioner sustained both a right shoulder and low back injury in a compensable accident.  He received treatment for both, but the authorized treating physician, Dr. Faisal, opined within his reports that the low back injury resolved within a few months of the injury.  The petitioner’s treatment for the shoulder continued and led to an authorized surgical procedure.  When treatment concluded for the shoulder injury, the petitioner requested additional treatment for the low back after more than a year of no documented complaints.  He obtained a report from Dr. Becan recommending an MRI and a referral to an orthopedic spine specialist.  The respondent denied the request for treatment based on the authorized treating physician’s opinion that the back injury had resolved and that any further need for treatment would not be related to the work injury.

Judge Wojtenko denied the petitioner’s Motion for Medical and Temporary Total Disability Benefits and dismissed the low back injury claim from the matter.  The petitioner’s claim for the shoulder injury remained.  Although Judge Wojtenko found the petitioner to be credible, he found him also to appear defensive and evasive upon cross-examination.  He discounted Dr. Becan’s opinion, as it was based on a one-time evaluation of the petitioner, finding it to be “speculative and flawed.”  He stated that Dr. Becan’s testimony revealed that there was no present need for treatment, as he opined that the petitioner should undergo a diagnostic test, and that depending on the results, “may” need further treatment.

Judge Wojtenko also found that Dr. Becan’s opinion was not based on facts in evidence.  Dr. Becan assumed that the petitioner had “ongoing low back complaints since his accident of October 18, 2010.”  But Judge Wojtenko noted that the medical evidence and cross-examination showed that the petitioner’s back complaints were absent for over one year.  Significantly, Judge Wojtenko noted Dr. Becan’s concession on cross examination that if a patient had a normal physical examination and a lack of complaints, he would consider the condition resolved.

Nurse Case Manager Joann Sharp’s testimony was crucial.  Judge Wojtenko found her to be a “more credible witness than the petitioner,” stating that she was “honest and forthcoming in answering all questions on direct and cross examination.”  Judge Wojtenko pointed out that Ms. Sharp testified that the petitioner began to complain of his low back after attending work hardening and his functional capacity evaluation in early 2012.  However, he found that since neither the petitioner, Dr. Becan, nor Dr. Faisal mentioned these two incidents as causing or aggravating the petitioner’s low back condition, they were of no consequence and not the cause of the present back complaints.

Judge Wojtenko further found that the petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case that he sustained a compensable low back injury.  He specifically found that the petitioner’s low back sprain, diagnosed and treated by Dr. Faisal immediately after the October 18, 2010, accident, resolved somewhere between December 23, 2010 and March 14, 2011.  He further found that the resolved low back sprain was a “minor injury and not serious enough to merit compensation.”