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Brune v. Johnson Controls

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

March 10, 2015

MICHAEL BRUNE, Claimant/Respondent,
v.
JOHNSON CONTROLS, A/K/A HOOVER UNIVERSAL, INC., Employer/Appellant

Page 373

Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.

FOR APPELLANT: L. David Green, Knapp, Ohl & Green, Edwardsville, Illinois.

FOR RESPONDENT: Dean L. Christianson, Schuchat, Cook & Werner, St. Louis, Missouri.

Philip M. Hess, Judge. Sherri B. Sullivan, P.J. and Mary K. Hoff, J. concur.

OPINION

Philip M. Hess, Judge.

Page 374

Introduction

In this workers' compensation claim, Johnson Controls, Inc. (Employer) appeals the temporary and partial award of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (Commission) granting Michael Brune (Claimant) medical treatment and other benefits necessary to cure the effects of his bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Employer asserts that the Commission erred by (1) applying the " last exposure rule" in § 287.063 RSMo 2000[1] because Claimant's work for Employer did not expose him to the hazards of an occupational disease and (2) applying the law regarding notice of an occupational disease to an employer under § 287.420 RSMo Supp. 2005. We affirm.[2]

Factual Background

Claimant worked as an assembly technician for Employer beginning in August 2000 through May 2007. His duties for Employer required him to use both hands in the assembly of various parts of Chrysler pickup trucks and vans. Before his employment with Employer, Claimant worked for D& H Trucking, during which time he developed problems with his hands and wrists. Claimant filed a worker's compensation claim against D& H Trucking in September 2000, but voluntarily dismissed the claim in August 2003.

In the spring of 2005, Claimant reported pain and numbness in his hands to Employer. Employer authorized Claimant to seek care from Dr. Cynthia Byler, who diagnosed Claimant with severe right, and more moderate left, sensory motor median neuropathy across the carpal tunnels and recommended that a hand specialist examine claimant. Employer authorized Claimant to see Dr. Mitchell Rotman, who found that Claimant's work activities did not cause his bilateral CTS and recommended bilateral CTS releases. Employer denied further treatment and Claimant's condition continued to worsen.

In July 2005, Claimant filed the instant workers' compensation claim against Employer, asserting that in June 2004 he sustained

Page 375

bilateral CTS due to the " repetitive nature" of his work and the continued use of his hands, wrists, and elbows over an extended period of time in the scope of his employment. Employer filed an answer to the claim for compensation, alleging that Claimant had failed to give Employer proper notice of his claim.

After a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) entered a temporary and partial award in Claimant's favor, awarding Claimant " all medical treatment and other benefits necessary to cure and relieve the effects of his disease." The ALJ found that Claimant's work for Employer exposed him to an occupation in which the hazards of an occupational disease exist, i.e., bilateral CTS. Specifically, the ALJ found credible Claimant's testimony regarding the tasks he performed while on the job (including clipping, snapping, flipping, pushing, gluing, and loading vehicle parts) and the opinion of Claimant's medical expert, Dr. Bruce Schlafly, that these duties were a " substantial factor" in the cause of Claimant's bilateral CTS. The ALJ rejected Dr. Rotman's medical opinion that CTS is idiopathic, noting that his opinion is " too extreme to be worthy of belief and contrary to the past decisions from the Missouri Court of Appeals which have said that [CTS] is a known occupational disease." The ALJ further found ...


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