Supreme Court says permanent partial disability award was proper

By Kyla Asbury | Mar 12, 2018

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that a permanent partial disability award of 3 percent to a medical billing employee of Professional Imaging Inc. was proper.

Regina L. Conner appealed the decision of the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Board of Review, according to a recent memorandum decision.

On May 12, 2016, the claims administrator granted an award of 3 percent permanent partial disability. The Office of Judges affirmed the claims administrator’s award in its March 13, 2017, order. The order was affirmed by the Board of Review on Aug. 23.

On March 26, 2015, Conner developed pain in her low back after she bent over to pull copy paper. An April 17, 2015, lumbar spine MRI revealed extruded disc material at L4-L5.

Conner underwent a right L4-L5 laminectomy/foraminotomy/discectomy on June 2, 2015.

Prior to the 2015 compensable injury, Conner fell in snow in March 2011 and injured her back. As a result of that fall, she underwent an L4-L5 discectomy for which she had residual symptoms including back pain and left leg numbness.

Following Conner’s recovery from her June 2, 2015, surgery, Dr. Prasadarao Mukkamala performed an independent medical evaluation.

Mukkamala noted the lumbar spine range of motion measurements were fairly consistent with repeated attempts and diagnosed lumbar sprain, status-post L4-L5 discectomy performed twice.

He assessed 7 percent impairment for loss of range of motion according to Figures 79 and 80 of the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment and he also assessed 1 percent impairment for sensory diminution according to Tables 20 and 83 of the American Medical Association’s Guides and 12 percent impairment for the surgical procedures per Table 75 American Medical Association’s Guides.

Mukkamala combined the ratings to 19 percent whole person impairment. He then reduced the 19 percent to 13 percent per West Virginia Code of State Rules § 85-20 (2006).

Mukkamala then opined that the 13 percent impairment was due to all of Conner’s back injuries and opined that she had 3 percent impairment for the compensable injury.

Based on his report, the claims administrator granted a 3 percent permanent partial disability award on May 12, 2016.

Dr. David P. Rupp performed an independent medical evaluation on Sept. 23, 2016. Rupp noted Conner’s preexisting injury, which resulted in her 2011 surgery, and apportioned 8 percent of a 13 percent impairment to the preexisting condition for a final assessment of 5 percent impairment.

In its March 13, 2017, order, the Office of Judges affirmed the claims administrator’s May 12, 2016, decision.

“The Office of Judges noted that Drs. Mukkamala and Rupp evaluated the claimant based upon range of motion,” the decision states. “Dr. Rupp deducted the preexisting impairment from his range of motion findings prior to his application of West Virginia Code of State Rules § 8520.”

However, the correct methodology is to deduct impairment attributable to a preexisting injury from the final whole person impairment rating and Mukkamala was the only physician of record to properly apportion the impairment.

“Therefore, the Office of Judges found Dr. Mukkamala’s report to be the most credible evidence of Ms. Conner’s impairment due to the compensable injury,” the decision states. “The Board of Review adopted the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Office of Judges and affirmed its Order on August 23, 2017.”

The Supreme Court agreed with the reasoning and conclusions of the Office of Judges as affirmed by the Board of Review.

W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 17-0838

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