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Turek v. Freezings

October 24, 2002

NORMAN F. TUREK, RELATOR,
v.
NORTHFIELD FREEZINGS, F/K/A NORTHFIELD EQUIPMENT, AND ACCEPTANCE INDEMNITY INSURANCE CO., C/O PREFERRED WORKS, RESPONDENTS, NORTHFIELD FREEZINGS, F/K/A NORTHFIELD EQUIPMENT, AND NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, C/O GAB ROBINS, INC., RESPONDENTS.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Finding of temporary total disability was supported by evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate; the compensation judge did not abuse his discretion in deferring the claim for permanent partial disability benefits.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, J.

OPINION

By writ of certiorari, employee-relator Norman F. Turek seeks review of a decision of the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) reversing the compensation judge's award of temporary total disability benefits and deferment of the permanent partial disability claim. By notice of review, Northfield Freezings and its workers' compensation liability insurers, Acceptance Indemnity Insurance Company and National Union Fire Insurance Company, challenge the limited extension of liability for wage loss benefits for failure to comply with the statutory procedure for discontinuance of workers' compensation benefits. We reverse and reinstate the compensation judge's award of temporary total disability benefits and the deferment of the permanent partial disability claim. The decision of the compensation judge, as affirmed by the WCCA in all other respects, is affirmed.

Norman Turek sustained compensable low back injuries in 1992, 1995, and 1998 while employed as a sheetmetal worker for Northfield Freezings, formerly known as Northfield Equipment. Following the third injury, the employee filed a claim petition, seeking various workers' compensation benefits. The matter proceeded to hearing on January 15, 1999, following which the compensation judge awarded temporary total disability benefits to the date of hearing "and continuing as long as the employee's condition warrants subject to the terms and limitations of the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act." The compensation judge allocated liability between Acceptance Indemnity and National Union, the insurers on risk in 1995 and 1998 respectively, designating National Union as the paying agent with a right of reimbursement from Acceptance Indemnity pursuant to the apportioned liability. The compensation judge also determined that the employee had not yet reached maximum medical improvement from the combined effects of the 1995 and 1998 injuries and that, at the time of the hearing, it was premature to determine whether the 1998 injury was permanent in nature.

On appeal, the WCCA reversed and remanded for reconsideration. Turek v. Northfield Equip./Freezings, 1999 WL 757018, at *5 (Minn. WCCA Aug. 23, 1999) (Turek I). On reconsideration on remand, the compensation judge reinstated his prior award as modified, excluding benefits for a two-month period in the fall of 1998. National Union paid the disputed benefits through January 15, 1999, the date of the original hearing, for a total of $8,922.82. On March 1, 2000, National Union filed a Notice of Benefits Payment, documenting that payment had been made. No wage loss benefits were paid for any period of time beyond January 15, 1999, and no notice of intention to discontinue benefits was served or filed.

On May 4, 2000, the employee filed a claim petition seeking, among other things, temporary total disability benefits from the date of the original hearing and permanent partial disability benefits. The employer and insurers were granted additional time to obtain a medical evaluation and successfully petitioned for reassignment to a different compensation judge.

Following a hearing held on July 27, 2001, the second compensation judge awarded temporary total disability benefits through Septemberá5, 2000, the date of the employer's medical evaluation. The permanent partial disability claim was deferred as premature. On appeal, the WCCA reversed the award of wage loss benefits and remanded that dispute for redetermination, subject to limited liability for improper discontinuance of benefits. Turek v. Northfield Freezings, 2002 WL 1377766, at *9-11 (Minn. WCCA May 30, 2002) (TurekáII). The WCCA also reversed the deferral of permanent partial disability. Id. at *7. All parties have sought review.

I.

When reviewing the findings of a compensation judge, the WCCA may not disregard the compensation judge's findings but must affirm the findings unless they are "clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted." Pelowski v. K-Mart Corp., 627 N.W.2d 89, 92 (quoting Minn. Stat. §á176.421, subd. 1 (2000)). "Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Id. at 92 (citing Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 59 (Minn. 1984)). The WCCA must look at all the evidence in performing its review function, give due weight to the compensation judge's evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses, and "uphold findings based on conflicting evidence or evidence from which more than one inference might reasonably be drawn." Id.

In reversing the award of wage loss benefits, the WCCA concluded that the second compensation judge had given res judicata effect to the first compensation judge's decision, relying on the memorandum attached to the second compensation judge's decision. The WCCA said that the compensation judge erred in making the award "based simply on his conclusion" that prior proceedings "dictated that result in the absence of some evidence of a change in circumstances." Turek II, 2002 WL 1377766, at *10. The WCCA determined that a remand was therefore required for reconsideration of the temporary total disability claim.

We believe, however, that a fair reading of the second compensation judge's findings and order in its entirety, together with the judge's explanation, leads to the conclusion that in the compensation judge's view the evidence that covered the new period in dispute supported the determination that the employee was on total disability status until he was seen by the employer's examiner on September 5, 2000.*fn1 It seems to us the compensation judge was mindful of the interests of all of the parties, referring to but not binding himself to the prior compensation judge's findings. Inconsistent or inaccurate statements in a memorandum attached to a decision of the factfinder need not require a reversal where findings are adequate and clear and the record supports otherwise justifiable findings. Christenson v. Pedersen Bros., 269 Minn. 111, 115-16, 130 N.W.2d 234, ...


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