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Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

June 26, 2003

WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY,
PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES,
RESPONDENT. HAROLD SPENCER,
INTERVENOR.



On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DKT85-01)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Schwelb and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Argued May 22, 2003

Petitioner Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") filed a petition for review of a decision of the Director of the Department of Employment Services ("the Director") affirming a compensation order in favor of intervenor Harold Spencer ("Mr. Spencer"). We affirm the decisio n of the Director. We hold that the Director and the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") applied the correct legal standard governing the presumption of compensability; and that the employee satisfied his initial burden regarding the presumption of compensability. We also hold that the employer failed to present substantial evidence to rebut that presumption; and that based upon the record in this case, no additional medical evidence was necessary to refute the sworn testimony of the employer's expert. The employee presented extensive medical reports from his treating physician and other documentary evidence to satisfy his burden of proof, and the opinion of the employer's expert was based upon a flawed factual assumption. Finally, we conclude that the record in this case contained substantial evidence to support the Director's and the ALJ's findings and determinations.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

According to the factual findings of the ALJ in this case, on May 26, 2000, Mr. Spencer, an elevator and escalator technician for WMATA, had completed an inspection of an elevator shaft at the Van Ness station, where he found "eight inches to a foot of water which [he] believed contained oil," and was in the process of climbing a ladder from the shaft when he slipped and fell, striking his back on a shut off valve and injuring his knees. After informing his supervisor of his fall, he sought medical treatment from the George Washington University Hospital. There, he filled out an incident report fo rm. He stated that he had "injured his right and left knee as well as his right ankle and back in the incident." Although Mr. Spencer had a prior "circulatory problem with his right leg[, it] was corrected by . . . a vascu lar surgeon." Mr. Spencer was "not treated for any vascular problem with his left leg."

Mr. Spencer was unable to work from May 27, 2000, through October 10, 2000. When he returned to work on October 11, 2000, "[h]e began to feel a sharp pain in his left knee and thereafter his left knee would buckle when he walked." When he ascended stairs, he noticed a clicking sound in his left knee. So, he again sought medical diagnosis and treatment on February 13, 2001 from the same doctor who had treated him after his accident on May 26, 2000, Dr. Craig Faulks.

Dr. Faulks advised Mr. Spencer that he should get an MRI and that he might need an arthroscopic procedure. The MRI "revealed chondral damage to the medial femoral condyle." WMATA did not authorize the arthroscopic procedure. Nevertheless, Mr. Spencer proceeded with the arthroscopic surgery on August 3, 2001, by using his own insurance. During the surgery, D r. Faulks found "a small radial tear of the medial meniscus," as well as "a complex degenerative tear of the meniscus." He repaired the radial tear, debrided the complex degenerative tear, and prescribed six weeks of therapy.

Mr. Spencer filed a workers' compensation claim for temporary total disability benefits from April 12, 2001 to April 21, 2001, from May 19, 2001 to the time of filing, and continuing. The ALJ found in favor of Mr. Spencer's claim, and awarded him temporary total disability payments for the specified time period, as well as "all reasonably related medical expenses." WMATA filed a petition for review with the Director, and the Director affirmed the compensation order.

ANALYSIS

WMATA contends that "the Director's [d]ecision is legally flawed and must be reversed." It is flawed in the first instance, WMATA argues, because of "[t]he failure of the Director to consider the evidence submitted by [WMATA] to rebut the presumption [of compensability]." That testimony came from the deposition of WMATA's expert, Dr. James Callan. WMATA claims that the Director's decision is also flawed "because [Mr. Spencer] submitted no expert medical evidence to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his left knee condition was causally related to the work injury." Therefore, WMATA argues that the Director's decision is not supported by substantial record evidence.

Mr. Spencer supports the conclusions of the ALJ and the Director that, in essence, Dr. Callan's testimony "was manifestly insufficient to rebut the pres umption of compensability." In addition, Mr. Spencer asserts that there is substantial record evidence to support the determination of the ALJ, and the affirmation of the Director, that his left knee injury was causally related to his fall on May 26, 2000. That evidence includes his testimony which the ALJ credited, the medical reports of Dr. Faulks and other documents, and the cross-examination responses of Dr. Callan. In response to WMATA's argument that expert testimony was required to rebut that of Dr. Callan, Mr. Spencer emphasizes that his is a workers' compensation claim, and that a claimant is not required to meet the standards imposed in a negligence case.

Generally, "[w]e review the Director's legal rulings de novo, but otherwise defer to the Director's determination so long as it rationally flows from the facts and is supported by substantial evidence on the record." Safeway Stores v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 806 A.2d 1214, 1219 (D.C. 2002) (citations omitted). Specifically, in a case of this type, where the presumption of compensability has been challenged by the employer, our approach has been summarized partially in Brown v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 700 A.2d 787 (D.C. 1997):

In the District of Columbia, there is a presumption of compensability under the [Workers' Compensation] Act. D.C. Code § 36-321 (1) [now codified at § 32-1521 (1) (2001)]; Ferreira [v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 531 A.2d 651, 655 (D.C. 1987)]. Its purpose is to advance the humanitarian goal of the statute to provide compensation to employees for work-related disabilities reasonably expeditiously, even in arguable cases, Id. at 654-55 (citations omitted). To come within the presumption, a claimant must make an initial showing of some evidence of "a death or disability and a work-related event, activity, or requirement which has the potential of resulting in or contributing to the death or disability." Id. (citation omitted). Once that showing has been made, "[t]he presumption then operates to establish a causal connection between the disability and the work-related event, activity, or requirement." Id. (footnote and citation omitted). The claimant must provide some evidence that the disability is connected ...


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