Traussi v. B&G Foods
Maine Employers' Mutual Insurance Company
March 26, 2015
Pre-Existing Degenerative Disc Disease Multiple Aggravations Continuing Benefits
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
Traussi had pre-existing degenerative disc disease and aggravated it at work in 2006 and 2010. He filed petitions on those injuries requesting lost time benefits, and the hearing officer granted him benefits, but only on a closed-end basis.
2011, Traussi filed additional petitions claiming a 2011 aggravation of his 2006 and 2010 injuries. The §312 IME doctor found that the 2006 injury contributed toward his 2011 incapacity, but that the 2010 aggravation had ended, and Hearing Officer Elwin adopted those findings in her decree.
Traussi appealed, and the Appellate Division granted his appeal in part, vacating the decision regarding the 2010 injury on the grounds of res judicata, and remanding the case back to HO Elwin for further proceedings. The panel majority held that the prior decree established that his 2010 aggravation injury was ongoing, even if he was not entitled to continuing benefits. They held that B&G had to show the 2010 aggravation had ended by “comparative medical evidence” (comparing the state of his 2010 injury currently with its state at the time of the first decree), and that the 2011 §312 IME report stating that the 2010 aggravation was temporary and had ended was not sufficient.
Retiring Hearing Officer Garry Greene dissented, pointing out that the prior decree ordered only closed-end benefits, not continuing benefits, and that res judicata could not reasonably be applied “offensively” to Traussi’s future benefit requests. Under HO Greene’s analysis, this decision improperly requires the employer to prove a lack of causation, even when the employee is the petitioning party.