Menu Close

The Second District Court of Appeal reversed the WCAB finding that the medical evidence on the cause of the psychiatric injury and sleep disorder was not substantial evidence because it is based on an inadequate medical history. Here is what happened in the unpublished case of Radiator USA v. WCAB.

Am Kang sustained an admitted injury to his back on December 24, 2010 while working as a driver for Radiator USA. Kang additionally claimed to have sustained injury to his psyche in the form of a sleep disorder. David B. Pechman, M.D. was the AME in orthopedics. He noted that compression fractures in Kang’s vertebrae appeared old and he thought that most of Kang’s pain related to the compression fractures. Dr. Pechman apportioned 50 percent of the orthopedic injury to nonindustrial preexisting metabolic bone disease.

Rodney Bluestone, MD, the qualified medical evaluator of rheumatology, confirmed Kang had metabolic bone disease (osteopenia and osteoporosis) but could not determine a cause. Although Dr. Bluestone requested additional testing to determine the cause of the metabolic bone disease, there was no supplemental report that addressed causation.

Ana L. Nogales, Ph.D., evaluated Kang as a secondary treating physician in psychology. Dr. Nogales obtained a history of the injury, history of the treatment, and physical and emotional complaints exclusively from Kang. Dr. Nogales explicitly noted that she did not receive medical or employment records for review.

On the issue of causation, Dr. Nogales found that, as a “consequence of his industrial accident, Mr. Kang developed anxiety that increased with the passage of time and deteriorated at the end of 2011 when he saw that his condition is not improving.” Dr. Nogales opined that the “percentage of total causation of Mr. Kang’s current mental disorder is estimated at a higher level than the legal threshold of industrial causation of 50 [percent].” She specifically noted a nonindustrial causal factor of a dog bite in 2005 requiring stitches. Dr. Nogales made no mention of Dr. Pechman’s orthopedic diagnosis or his apportionment to the preexisting bone disease.

The matter was heard on September 26, 2013. The sole medical evidence of psychiatric industrial causation came from psychologist Dr. Nogales. Based upon this evidence, the WCJ issued findings of fact concluding Kang sustained industrial injury to his back, to his psyche, and in the form of a sleep disorder. Reconsideration was sought based “upon a lack of medical evidence to support this finding.” Reconsideration was denied. The appeals board found the doctors “based their opinions on extensive discussions with [Kang] regarding how he sustained his injury and his condition thereafter.” The appeals board found that, based on these discussions, Dr. Nogales concluded the industrial cause of Kang’s psychiatric injury was higher than the legal threshold. However the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded in the unpublished case.

In reversing the Court of Appeal noted that Dr. Nogales was completely unaware of the fact that Dr. Pechman had apportioned 50 percent of the orthopedic injury to nonindustrial preexisting metabolic bone disease. The Court posed the question does “this mean that 50 percent of the psychiatric injury is attributable to nonindustrial causes?”

The Court acknowledge that “these determinations cannot be made with mathematical precision, it is at least a major issue what portion of the psychiatric injury is attributable to nonindustrial causes. Although 50 percent is a reasonable surmise, on this silent record it is equally plausible to suppose that, given that psychiatric evaluations are unavoidably case-specific, 60 percent of the psychiatric injury – or 40 percent thereof – is attributable to nonindustrial causes. In short, what is needed here is an expert opinion that is based on a complete medical history, which necessarily includes Dr. Pechman’s finding that 50 percent of the orthopedic injury is attributable to nonindustrial causes.”

“Given the lack of competent medical evidence on causation, the decision of the appeals board cannot stand. It is now well established that the appeals board has an affirmative duty to develop an adequate record. As an example, where the medical evidence was evenly balanced on the issue of industrial causation, our Supreme Court held that the appeals board was not free to simply rule that the employee had failed to sustain his burden of proof but was required to take additional evidence in order to resolve the doubts raised by the existing medical reports”.

The decision of the appeals board is annulled and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.