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Thurston v. Guys With Tools, Ltd.

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 16, 2009

Sandra THURSTON, Petitioner,
v.
GUYS WITH TOOLS, LTD., d/b/a The Bush Pilot, and Alaska National Insurance Company, Respondents.

Page 825

Robert M. Beconovich, Law Office of Robert M. Beconovich, LLC, Fairbanks, for Petitioner.

Nora G. Barlow, DeLisio Moran Geraghty & Zobel, P.C., Anchorage, for Respondents.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case presents questions of law about a workers' compensation claim for permanent total disability (PTD) when the employee: (1) had a preexisting condition; (2) suffered a work injury implicating the preexisting condition; and (3) suffered a subsequent unrelated medical condition independently rendering the employee disabled.

An employee with preexisting arthritis in her left knee injured that knee at work in August 2002 and had knee surgery in June 2003. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2003. She was determined medically stable with respect to the knee injury in April 2004. In February 2006 she filed a workers' compensation claim for PTD and other benefits. The Alaska Workers' Compensation Board decided that the work injury continued to be compensable and that the combination of the cancer and the knee condition made the employee permanently and totally disabled; it thus awarded her PTD benefits. The Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission vacated the Board's decision, holding that the Board was required to decide whether the knee injury alone could cause PTD.

Because the Commission's decision is ambiguous, we granted the employee's petition for review to ensure that the Board used the correct legal standards in its rehearing after remand.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Sandra Thurston worked as a bartender for Guys With Tools, Ltd. at the Bush Pilot bar in Fairbanks beginning in 2000. She injured her left knee while working on August 17, 2002.[1] Thurston had knee surgery in June 2003 after a course of conservative treatment.[2] Guys With Tools paid her temporary

Page 826

total disability (TTD) and medical benefits for the injury.

In October 2003 Thurston was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent radiation treatment and chemotherapy. She did not have knee-related medical treatment again until April 2004, when she was examined, determined to be medically stable, and rated as having a one-percent whole person impairment. Guys With ...


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