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Washington Hosptial Center v. D.C. Department of Employment Services

January 20, 2000

WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER, PETITIONER,
V.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT,
BERTHA CARTER ANDERSON, INTERVENOR.



Before Schwelb, Farrell, and Washington, Associate Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Associate Judge

Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Argued October 12, 1999

A Hearing Examiner (Examiner) for the Department of Employment Services (DOES), pursuant to D.C. Code §§ 36-301 et seq. (1981), awarded petitioner Bertha Carter Anderson worker's compensation benefits for medical expenses relating to a foot injury she claimed to have suffered during her employment by Washington Hospital Center (Washington Hospital). Washington Hospital appealed the decision of the Examiner to the Director of DOES on September 19, 1997. The Director affirmed the Examiner's compensation order on January 7, 1998. Washington Hospital timely submitted a petition for review asking this court to vacate the decision of the Director because: 1) Anderson's condition was an occupational disease as opposed to an accidental injury; and 2) the testimony of Washington Hospital's expert witness, Dr. Abend, was sufficient to rebut the presumption that Anderson's injury was causally related to her job. We discern no error in the Director's ruling that Anderson's condition was an accidental injury, but reverse the Director's decision because, in our view, Dr. Abend's testimony was sufficient to rebut the presumption.

I. FACTUAL SUMMARY

Anderson was employed by Washington Hospital as a laundry helper from 1968 until July 1993. She was hired and worked in the District of Columbia from 1968 until May12, 1992. She was then transferred to work in Washington Hospital's facility in Forestville, Maryland, where she worked until July 1993. Part of Anderson's job requirements included walking on a concrete floor and pulling a laundry cart.

In 1985, Anderson began experiencing pain in the left heel of her foot. In 1986, she began experiencing pain in the right heel of her foot. Anderson sought medical assistance in September of 1986 from her primary care provider, Kaiser Permanente, where she was diagnosed with chronic plantar fasciitis.*fn1 In July of 1992, Anderson applied for worker's compensation benefits, claiming that her foot injury was work related because she was required to stand and walk on concrete floors eight hours a day to fulfill her job obligations.

At an evidentiary hearing, Anderson testified as to her foot injury and job requirements. In support of her case, she also included medical records of her treating physicians at Kaiser Permanente, Harvey M. Cohen, M.D. and Maurice Cates, M.D., as well as the medical records of Major P. Gladden, M.D. and Stephen L. Shapiro, M.D. In opposition to Anderson's claim that her foot injury was work related, Washington Hospital submitted testimonial evidence and an evaluation report by Jeffrey A. Abend, M.D. Dr. Abend testified that there was no causal relationship between Anderson's job and her foot injury.

After reviewing the evidence, the Examiner found that Washington Hospital had failed to rebut the presumption that there was a causal connection between Anderson's injuries and her job, and thus awarded Anderson medical expenses for her injury. On internal appeal, the Director found that, based on the medical records of Drs. Shapiro and Cohen, there was substantial evidence in the record to support the Examiner's conclusion that Anderson's injury was job related.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Like the Director, this court must affirm the compensation order if the findings of fact contained therein are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and the law has been properly applied. See D.C. Code § 36-301. "We examine whether the findings are detailed enough to allow a reviewing court to conclude that the decision followed rationally from the findings of fact." Sturgis v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 629 A.2d 547, 554 (D.C. 1993) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

Washington Hospital contends that the Director erred in ruling that Anderson's condition was an accidental injury as opposed to an occupational disease.*fn2 An occupational disease differs from an accidental injury in that an occupational disease is expected because the "inherent hazard of continued exposure to conditions of the particular employment" is apparent. See 3 A. Larson, Workers' Compensation Law § 52.03[1] (1999). Thus, categorizing an employee's condition as an occupational disease requires that the particular disease bear a distinctive relation to the nature of his/her employment, "as contrasted with diseases which might just as readily be contracted in other occupations or in everyday life apart from employment." See id. § 52.03[2]. Also, this court has articulated that "the statutory language accidental injury does not require that an unusual incident be the cause of the injury, but is satisfied if something unexpectedly goes wrong with the human frame." Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 506 A.2d 1127, 1130 (D.C. 1986) (emphasis added); Ferreira v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 531 A.2d 651, 656 (D.C. 1987). In Ferreira, we expressed that in cases of cumulative exposure to work-related requirements the claimant is not under a duty to provide a specific date or time of the injury, but it is enough that the claimant provide "the period of time during which the symptoms manifested themselves . . . ." 531 A.2d at 657 n.6.

In this case, Dr. Abend's testimony that plantar fasciitis is a condition commonplace in the general population, supported the Examiner's finding that Anderson's condition was not an occupational disease because plantar fasciitis was not peculiar to her employment as a laundry helper. See Larson, supra. Additionally, Anderson's testimony evinces that she did not expect to develop a foot injury, but began experiencing pain in the heel of both feet in 1986 while employed by Washington Hospital. See Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 506 A.2d at 1130; Ferreira, 531 A.2d at 656. Therefore, we find that there was ...


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