Thursday, December 11, 2008
C.A. Reverses Decision That Argument Caused Aneurysm
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal has overturned a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board determination that an employee’s fatal aneurysm rupture was caused by an argument with his supervisor moments earlier.
Placing emphasis on a doctor’s unwillingness to opine with certainty that the dispute spiked cement mason Paul Barron’s blood pressure, bursting a blood vessel in his brain, the court held in an unpublished opinion released Tuesday that the board’s determination the death “arose out of” Barron’s employment lacked substantial evidence.
Barron died in August 2004 moments after an argument with supervisor Darrell Gardner on the jobsite of their employer, A. Teichert & Son Inc.
Foreman Dan Thomas indicated the argument was carried over from a dispute the previous week over the cleanliness of Barron’s tools, and Barron’s brother-in-law and coworker, Daniel Cuevas, said Barron cursed, “I can’t handle this…,” and “Screw it, I’m out of here,” before walking to his truck a few hundred feet away.
Both Thomas and Cuevas watched Barron get into the truck, but he did not leave, so Thomas approached the vehicle after five minutes to persuade Barron to stay. Thomas found him slumped over in the driver’s seat, and Barron was pronounced dead after being transported to a hospital.
Barron’s widow, Stardust Barron, then filed a workers’ compensation claim after seeking the opinion of Dr. Rolf Scherman, who concluded that Barron’s anger over the argument could have led to a rise in blood pressure, causing the acute cerebral hemorrhage which killed him.
However, despite labeling this scenario “medically possible,” Scherman—noting that Barron had no similar, prior medical history, and did not display elevated blood pressure when examined at the hospital—indicated that “there is no way one can say with reasonable medical probability that this chain of events actually occurred.”
“All we can say is that this is one possible scenario, which cannot be proven or disproved,” he added, apologizing for his inability to be more definitive.
At trial, the parties stipulated that Barron died of a ruptured aneurysm, and the sole issue was the sufficiency of Scherman’s opinion as to industrial causation, or whether Barron’s death arose out of, and in the course of, employment as required by Labor Code Sec. 3600(a).
A workers’ compensation judge found that Scherman’s opinion was sufficient to establish a casual connection, concluding that Stardust Barron had met her burden of proving that events at work caused her late husband to experience an emotional state, leading to his injury, and that Teichert had failed to show otherwise.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board then adopted the judge’s decision, but Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland wrote on appeal that “there is no substantial evidence of a reasonable probability” that the argument caused Paul Barron’s injury, “only a mere possibility which is not sufficient.”
Noting Scherman’s testimony as to a “great deal of controversy in medical literature regarding whether an increase in blood pressure can cause an aneurysm to rupture,” and the doctor’s credentials as a “qualified medical examiner, Scotland commented that “it does not matter that Dr. Scherman was unable to opine with certainty that Barron’s blood pressure increased significantly thereby causing his aneurysm to burst.”
“However, it does matter that he was unwilling to say that this probably occurred or it was reasonable to assume that this occurred, as opposed to only that it was possible that the argument caused the ruptured aneurysm.
“Dr. Scherman did not even state that anger usually raises a person’s blood pressure, only that it can do so. It is speculative to assume that simply because an argument can raise a person’s blood pressure, it probably did so to Barron and his blood pressure probably spiked enough to burst the aneurysm….
“The intended meaning of Dr. Scherman’s opinion is plain; he could not say that it was reasonably probable the argument at work caused Barron’s aneurysm to rupture. The Board could not speculate that he meant otherwise.”
Justices Coleman Blease and Ronald B. Robie joined Scotland in his opinion.
The case is A. Teichert & Son, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, C057780.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company