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Straughn v. Department of Employment Services

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

December 19, 2017

Katarina Straughn, Petitioner,
v.
District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, Respondent, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Intervenor.

          FILED: 02/01/2018

          Submitted September 28, 2017

         On Petition for Review of an Order of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services Compensation Review Board (CRB-71-16)

          Krista N. DeSmyter was on the brief for petitioner.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at the time the statement was filed, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General at the time the statement was filed, filed a statement in lieu of brief.

          Sarah O. Rollman was on the brief for intervenor.

          Mark H. Dho entered an appearance for intervenor.

          Before Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, McLeese, Associate Judge, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          McLeese, Associate Judge.

         Petitioner Katarina Straughn challenges an order denying her claim for workers' compensation benefits. We vacate and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         The evidence presented to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was as follows. In September 2014, while working for intervenor Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Ms. Straughn hit her right knee against a metal beam. She sought medical treatment at a hospital that day for severe pain in her right knee. Ms. Straughn started seeing Dr. Rida Azer in October 2014 for treatment of her right-knee pain. Dr. Azer initially diagnosed Ms. Straughn with a right-knee contusion. Dr. Azer subsequently concluded that Ms. Straughn had "an avulsion tear of the medial lateral ligament with traumatic synovitis." An October 2014 MRI test contradicted Dr. Azer's diagnosis, indicating that there was no ligament tear and that Ms. Straughn instead suffered from chondromalacia and mild arthritis.

         Ms. Straughn visited Dr. Azer several more times over the next few months with continued complaints of right-knee pain. Starting in January 2015, Dr. Azer suggested arthroscopic surgery as an option for Ms. Straughn. In July 2015, Dr. Azer diagnosed Ms. Straughn with a possible tear of the right-quadriceps tendon. Dr. Azer opined that the tear was caused by Ms. Straughn's September 2014 injury. Dr. Azer further opined, "The patient's condition in the right knee itself will need arthroscopic surgery. If there is a tear in the quadriceps, this will need a small incision for reconstruction." Ms. Straughn underwent another MRI in July 2015. In August 2015, Dr. Azer noted that Ms. Straughn's July 2015 MRI was unchanged from the previous MRI, showing chondromalacia and arthritis. Dr. Azer continued to diagnose Ms. Straughn with a "[r]ight knee contusion" and suggest "diagnostic and therapeutic arthroscopy" along with a probable reconstruction of a torn quadriceps. Dr. Azer also concluded that Ms. Straughn was medically unable to work during a period including December 5, 2015, to January 4, 2016.

         Dr. David Johnson examined Ms. Straughn in June 2015 at WMATA's request. He initially suspected that there might be a quadriceps tear, but he recommended against arthroscopy because that procedure would not identify such an injury. After reviewing the MRIs, Dr. Johnson opined that Ms. Straughn's symptoms were the result of arthritis that preexisted the workplace incident; that because there was no difference in her condition between the two MRIs, the workplace incident did not accelerate her preexisting arthritis; that although the workplace incident might have temporarily exacerbated the symptoms of her preexisting ...


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