Can a bus driver collect workers’ compensation benefits for a wrist condition she blames on overuse from her job if there’s no expert medical opinion to back up her claim?
In this case the answer is no, according to the Montana Workers’ Compensation Court, finding that without expert medical opinion there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the driver’s left-wrist condition was related to her job.
Minor pain in wrist turns extreme
Cheryl Christoffersen worked full time for Karst Stage as a bus and motor-coach driver. On Nov. 21, 2021, she experienced weakness in her left hand while she was sweeping out a bus.
Five days later, she felt a minor pain in her left arm that was “a little out of the normal.” On Nov. 27, 2021, she woke up with extreme pain in her left hand, to the point that she couldn’t hold a pen.
When she went to her doctor about the pain, Christoffersen was asked how she thought she may have injured her wrist. She told the doctor that she had felt some pain at work but didn’t remember falling or hitting it while on the job.
Diagnoses don’t relate medical problems to job
The doctor didn’t offer any opinion on the cause and didn’t provide a possible diagnosis. Instead, the doctor prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and a blood pressure medication for hypertension. Christoffersen was also given a referral to an orthopedic specialist.
The specialist prescribed her a steroid used to treat inflammation and recommended conservative treatment for gout arthritis.
Christoffersen filed a workers’ compensation claim with the Montana State Fund on Dec. 3, 2021 for a stress-related injury in her left arm.
Over the next several months, she continued to suffer from, and receive treatment for, pain in her left wrist. She also began to receive treatment for heart problems at this time, which she also claimed was work-related.
Throughout her treatment with several different doctors and specialists, there was no medical opinion provided that connected any of her health problems with her work.
No expert opinion, insufficient evidence = no proof
Eventually, the Montana State Fund contested Christoffersen’s claim, which was denied during a hearing when she couldn’t provide an expert medical opinion or enough evidence to support that her medical condition was work-related.
On appeal with the Montana Workers’ Compensation Court, Christoffersen continued to argue that her wrist pain was caused by her job.
However, after reviewing the evidence, the court found that Christoffersen failed to meet her burden of proof. Under Montana’s Workers’ Compensation Act, a worker “is required to prove medical causation … through expert opinion or testimony.”
In this case, the court found that “Christoffersen has offered mostly medical records, none of which present a provider’s opinion that her employment caused any of her conditions.”
Without an expert medical opinion or sufficient medical evidence to support her claim, Christoffersen’s case couldn’t proceed.