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Knutter v. American National Insurance

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District

May 13, 2019

JOAN KNUTTER, Deceased Employee by MICHAEL KNUTTER, Claimant-Respondent,
v.
AMERICAN NATIONAL INSURANCE, Employer-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION

          MARY W. SHEFFIELD, J.

         This is an appeal from an award of compensation in the amount of $43, 160.00 entered by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("the Commission") in favor of Michael Knutter ("Claimant"). Claimant's mother, Joan Knutter ("Employee"), worked for American National Insurance ("Employer"). She broke her ankle when she slipped and fell on ice outside of her workplace on March 25, 2013. On May 9, 2013, Employee died following a saddle pulmonary embolism, which related to the immobility that resulted from her workplace injury. Employee's husband, Karl Knutter ("Husband"), asserted a claim for dependent benefits. On July 17, 2015, Husband died. After Husband's death, Employee and Husband's son, Michael Knutter ("Claimant"), was substituted as the personal representative of Husband.

          Employer raises four points on appeal. Points 1-3 challenge the award as not based on sufficient competent evidence. Point 4 challenges the basis of Claimant's substitution for Husband. Because there was sufficient competent evidence to support the Commission's award, and because Employer's specific challenge to the basis for Claimant's substitution was not raised below, we affirm.

         Standard of Review

         "On appeal, this Court reviews the Commission's decision to determine if it is 'supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the whole record.'" Johme v. St. John's Mercy Healthcare, 366 S.W.3d 504, 509 (Mo. banc 2012) (quoting Mo. Const. Art. V, § 18). This Court:

may modify, reverse, remand for rehearing, or set aside the award upon any of the following grounds and no other:
(1) That the [C]ommission acted without or in excess of its powers;
(2) That the award was procured by fraud;
(3) That the facts found by the [C]ommission do not support the award; [or]
(4) That there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the award.

§ 287.495.1.[1]

         This Court reviews questions of law de novo, but gives deference to the Commission on issues of fact, credibility determinations, and the weight the Commission afforded to conflicting evidence. Malam v. State, Dept. of Corrs., 492 S.W.3d 926, 928 (Mo. banc 2016). When medical causation is not within common experience or knowledge, it must be established by scientific or medical evidence that shows the relationship between the claimant's condition and the asserted cause. Beatrice v. Curators of Univ. of Mo., 438 S.W.3d 426, 435 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014). Medical opinion testimony as to causation is competent, and can be viewed as substantial evidence. Id. This Court affords the Commission deference "in resolving conflicting medical testimony given by various expert witnesses." Cole v. Alan Wire Co., 521 S.W.3d 308, 310 (Mo. App. S.D. 2017).

         Background

         On March 25, 2013, Employee, while in the course and scope of her employment, fractured her ankle when she slipped and fell on ice outside of her workplace. Initially, Employee was given a protective splint and crutches to assist with her non-weight bearing instructions. On April 1, 2013, Employee saw an orthopedic physician, Dr. Robert Bennett ("Dr. Bennett"). Dr. Bennett's notes indicated that Employee had "slipped and put some pressure on [her ankle] since the time of injury" so he elected to treat her with a short-leg, non-walking cast and a wheelchair was also prescribed. On May 3, 2013, Employee again saw Dr. Bennett. He noted that Employee's previous cast was "quite loose as her swelling ha[d] decreased" and her fracture was healing well. Employee received a new short-leg cast, and Dr. Bennett scheduled a follow-up appointment for two weeks later.

         On May 9, 2013, Employee experienced shortness of breath while she was sitting on the toilet, and was transported to the Emergency Department by ambulance. She suffered a saddle pulmonary embolism and died the same day. Husband timely asserted a claim for dependent benefits as a relative by marriage of a deceased employee. However, while the underlying claim was still pending, Husband died on July 17, 2015. On July 31, 2015, Claimant filed a "Motion for Substitution of Party and Suggestion of Death." After oral argument before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Claimant's ...


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