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Lechner v. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance

Supreme Court of North Dakota

December 6, 2018

Nicholas Lechner, Appellant
v.
North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, Appellee and M I Drilling Fluids, Respondent

          Appeal from the District Court of Mountrail County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Richard L. Hagar, Judge.

          Stephen D. Little, Bismarck, N.D., for appellant.

          Brayden K. Harwood, Special Assistant Attorney General, Fargo, N.D., for appellee.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Nicholas Lechner appeals from a judgment affirming an administrative order sustaining a Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") order denying his claim for workers' compensation benefits. Lechner argues he proved by the greater weight of the evidence that he suffered a compensable injury and that his claim was timely. We affirm, concluding the administrative law judge's finding that Lechner failed to file a timely claim for benefits is supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

         I

         [¶ 2] On May 5, 2016, Lechner filed a claim with WSI for workers' compensation benefits. Lechner alleged he was injured at work on December 5, 2013. He claimed he was locked in a small room without a functioning heater, it was thirty degrees below zero outside, and he "screamed and banged for help for hours" before someone let him out of the room. He alleged he "had a panic attack and was traumatized with severe anxiety, sleep disorders, and left unable to function normally."

         [¶ 3] On June 24, 2016, WSI sent Lechner notice it was denying his claim for benefits. The letter stated Lechner's claim was denied because he did not file a claim within one year after the date of the injury.

         [¶ 4] Lechner requested reconsideration. In August 2016, WSI denied Lechner's claim. WSI found he did not allege a physical injury and there were no medical records indicating that he suffered any physical injuries. WSI found the evidence indicated Lechner suffered a mental injury arising out of a mental stimulus, he sought counseling because of anxiety related to work, and he should have reasonably known that the condition was work-related at that time. WSI concluded Lechner suffered a mental injury arising from a mental stimulus which was not a compensable injury and his claim was not timely.

         [¶ 5] Lechner appealed WSI's order. After a June 2017 hearing before an independent administrative law judge ("ALJ"), the ALJ affirmed WSI's order denying Lechner benefits. The ALJ found the greater weight of the evidence indicates Lechner may have sustained a mental injury which arose out of a mental stimulus and Lechner did not prove that he sustained a compensable injury or that he sustained a physical injury. The ALJ found none of the medical records introduced at the hearing indicated that Lechner reported, prior to February 2017, that he had sustained a physical injury during the December 5, 2013, work incident; that Lechner failed to establish he sustained a concussion or other head injury as a result of the work injury on December 5, 2013; and that he failed to establish his current psychological condition was caused by a physical injury. The ALJ also found the claim was not timely filed, Lechner's 29-month delay in filing for benefits was not reasonable, Lechner should reasonably have known that he suffered a work-related injury well before he filed his claim in May 2016, and Lechner's failure to disclose the alleged injury was the only reason for the delay in his diagnosis.

         [¶ 6] Lechner petitioned for reconsideration, arguing he was first diagnosed with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome in February 2017, the concussion is a physical injury, the post-concussion syndrome is a mental injury caused by the physical injury, and he did not know his symptoms were attributable to a concussion until he was diagnosed with a concussion. The ALJ affirmed its prior order.

         [¶ 7] Lechner appealed the ALJ's order to the district court. The court affirmed the ALJ's decision.

         II

         [¶ 8] Lechner argues the ALJ erred in affirming WSI's order denying his claim for benefits. He contends he is entitled to workers' compensation benefits because he sustained a compensable injury and he filed his claim in a timely manner. He claims he received a concussion during the December 5, 2013, work incident and he suffers from memory loss, post traumatic stress disorder, and sleep disturbance, all of which are related to his concussion. He contends his injury is compensable because the concussion is a physical ...


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