Pino v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety and Compensation Div

In Pino v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety and Compensation Div., 996 P.2d 679, 684-85 (Wyo. 2000), the claimant had incurred a work related back injury in 1995. He was diagnosed with a disc bulge at L4-L5 and L5-S1. He was treated conservatively and returned to work on a part-time basis within six months. He commenced full-time employment shortly thereafter. In 1997, Pino coughed while getting out of the shower at home rupturing the disc at the site of the previous bulge. He sought additional workers' compensation benefits. Id. After a contested case hearing, the hearing examiner entered his decision denying Pino benefits on the basis that he "had failed to establish that the herniated disc was causally related to the work-related injury in 1995." Id. at 682. The hearing examiner concluded that although Pino's 1995 injury predisposed him to a subsequent disc herniation, it was the cough in 1997 which caused the herniation. Id. at 685. In reviewing the decision of the hearing examiner the Court noted: ".The thrust of the hearing examiner's disposition is clear; he ruled that the cause of the herniation was a cough that occurred at home not the work place. Yet, there is nothing in the second compensable injury rule that attributes any significance to the place where the worker happened to be when the injury manifested itself nor is any triggering event required. Other cases simply report the increasing severity of the injury over time that ultimately required surgery. In Evenson, the triggering event was a slip and fall at home. We have ruled in a different medical context that the causal connection between an accident or condition at the workplace is satisfied if the medical expert testifies that it is more probable than not that the work contributed in a material fashion to the precipitation, aggravation or acceleration of the injury. Claim of Taffner, 821 P.2d 103, 105 (Wyo. 1991). We do not invoke a standard of reasonable medical certainty with respect to such causal connection. Kaan v. State ex rel. Wyoming Worker's Compensation Div., 689 P.2d 1387, 1389 (Wyo. 1984) (citing Jim's Water Service v. Eayrs, 590 P.2d 1346 (Wyo. 1979)). Testimony by the medical expert to the effect that the injury "most likely," "contributed to," or "probably" is the product of the workplace suffices under our established standard. Kaan, 689 P.2d at 1389. We have quoted above the mixed findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to which the hearing examiner acknowledged that it was the opinion of the doctors that the work injury in 1995 weakened the disc in Pino's back and predisposed him to herniation. Further, the hearing examiner acknowledged that the evidence established that the injury in 1995 predisposed Pino to the possibility of disc herniation. The hearing examiner then ruled, however, that the cause of the herniated disc was the cough at home. The hearing examiner made no reference to the law surrounding a second compensable injury." Id. The Court reversed the decision of the hearing examiner for failure to apply the second compensable injury rule to Pino's claim.