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Appeal of Sharrio

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 6, 2013

Appeal of Don Sharrio

The claimant, Don Sharrio, appeals an order of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (board) denying his request for payment of medical and prescription drug bills. The board concluded that his ongoing problems are a result of his underlying degenerative disc disease and are not causally related to his May 17, 2006 work injury. He argues that the board: (1) applied the incorrect legal standard with respect to the burden of proof and the issue of collateral estoppel; (2) erred as a matter of law in determining legal causation; and (3) erred in allowing relitigation of issues previously accepted and conceded by the employer. We affirm.

Our standard of review is established by statute. Appeal of Hartford Ins. Co., 162 N.H. 91, 92 (2011); RSA 541:13 (2007). All findings of the board upon all questions of fact properly before it are deemed prima facie lawful and reasonable. RSA 541:13. The order appealed from shall not be set aside or vacated except for errors of law, unless we are satisfied by a clear preponderance of the evidence before us, that such order is unjust or unreasonable. Id. Our task is not to determine whether we would have found differently than did the board, or to reweigh the evidence, but rather to determine whether the board's findings are supported by competent evidence in the record. Appeal of Carnahan, 160 N.H. 73, 77 (2010). As the appealing party in this case, the claimant bears the burden of demonstrating that the board's decision is unreasonable or unlawful. See Appeal of Letellier, 163 N.H. 24, 26 (2011).

The claimant first argues that the board applied an incorrect legal standard with respect to the burden of proof and the issue of collateral estoppel. Specifically, he asserts that because the insurance carrier entered into a lump sum settlement and never argued that treatment for his back was not causally related to the 2006 work injury, the carrier is collaterally estopped from doing so now. To the contrary, as we have previously held, "collateral estoppel does not apply to any issues conceded in [a] lump sum settlement." Appeal of Hooker, 142 N.H. 40, 46 (1997).

The claimant next asserts that the board erred as a matter of law in determining legal causation. The test for causation, however, has two prongs; a claimant must prove both legal causation and medical causation. Petition of Dunn, 160 N.H. 613, 621 (2010). Here, the board concluded that the claimant failed to prove both legal causation and medical causation. Even assuming without deciding that the board applied an incorrect standard in analyzing legal causation, it did not err regarding medical causation. "As long as competent evidence supports the board's decision, we will not reverse its determination even if other evidence would lead to a contrary result." Appeal of Hooker, 142 N.H. 40, 47 (1997) (quotation and brackets omitted). The board determined that "Dr. Sobel and Dr. Glassman were, in this case, much more comprehensive and convincing in their analysis of the role of the claimant's fall in connection with his low back problems" than were the other physicians opining in this case. Because this determination is amply supported by the record, we conclude that the board's decision on medical causation was neither unjust nor unreasonable. See Appeal of Harleysville Ins. Co., 156 N.H. 532, 535 (2007).

Finally, the claimant contends that the board erred in allowing relitigation of issues previously accepted and conceded by the employer. In doing so, he merely restates his first argument that because the insurance carrier entered into a lump sum settlement and never argued that treatment for his back was not causally related to the 2006 work injury, allowing the carrier to do so now is "unjustifiable." We have, however, addressed this argument and rejected it.

Because the board expressly stated that the only issue in this case was "whether the claimant's treatment was causally-related to the May 17, 2006 fall during the course of employment, " and because, at oral argument, both parties agreed with this characterization, we express no opinion as to whether his medical and prescription drug bills would be compensable as causally related to his 2003 work-related injury.

Affirmed.

HICKS, CONBOY and LYNN, JJ., ...


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