The Nebraska Court of Appeals handled that question in Hamilton v. United Parcel Service, No. A-17-102 (Neb. App. 2017).
Robert Hamilton (“Hamilton”) filed an action in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court claiming his dementia was due to repeated exposure to carbon monoxide while working as a spotter truckdriver for United Parcel Service, Inc. (“UPS”). Hamilton appeals from the compensation court’s order dismissing his petition with prejudice.
Hamilton worked for UPS as a spotter truck driver for ten years. Multiple friends, co-workers, and family members testified that Hamilton’s cognitive abilities began declining in 2012. Hamilton’s suit claims his dementia was from repeated exposure to carbon monoxide in his job with UPS. Dr. Sunil Bansal, an occupational medicine expert retained by Hamilton, stated the cumulative exposure to carbon monoxide at UPS was the most likely cause of his dementia.
UPS’s expert said it is not possible to quantify any level of exposure, and whether that exposure was the cause of Hamilton’s dementia. After reviewing the evidence, the compensation court entered an order dismissing Hamilton’s petition with prejudice. The court concluded, “After reviewing the totality of the evidence, the Court finds Hamilton failed to prove he was chronically exposed to carbon monoxide so as to cause his dementia.” Hamilton timely appealed.
Hamilton argues the compensation court erred by concluding his expert’s testimony was unpersuasive because he did not provide quantifiable incidents of carbon monoxide exposure. However, contrary to Hamilton’s assertion, the compensation court did not require Hamilton to prove his exact level and frequency of exposure. Rather, the court merely pointed out the lack of any evidence demonstrating Hamilton was repeatedly exposed to carbon monoxide while at work, and that Hamilton’s experts relied upon assumptions of such exposure. The determination of causation is, ordinarily, a matter for the trier of fact, whose factual findings will not be set aside unless clearly wrong. In this case, the Court will only set aside the compensation court’s factual findings as to causation if they are clearly wrong, which this Court has already concluded, they were not.
Hamilton relied on a case where an employee’s exposure to wheat dust in unusual amounts throughout his employment, which the Nebraska Supreme Court noted was clear from the record. It did not involve a question of whether or not there was exposure to wheat dust; rather, the employer argued the employee’s disability resulted from his own susceptibility and sensitivity to wheat dust and was therefore not compensable. The Nebraska Supreme Court concluded the outcome of the case was controlled by the evidence from medical experts, and the medical evidence supported awarding benefits to the employee.
This Court is not compelled to find the compensation court’s factual findings in the present matter must be clearly wrong simply because it found the expert testimony unpersuasive due to a lack of sufficient underlying information. In this case, Hamilton’s doctor assumed Hamilton had been repeatedly exposed to carbon monoxide when rendering his causation opinion. Assumptions amount to conjecture, and an expert’s opinion must have a sufficient factual basis so that the opinion is not mere conjecture or guess. The value of an opinion of an expert is no stronger than the facts upon which it is based. The Workers’ Compensation Court, as the trier of fact, was the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and weight to be given testimony. This Court cannot say the compensation court was clearly wrong in rejecting the experts’ opinions and in concluding Hamilton failed to prove a causal connection between workplace exposure to carbon monoxide and his dementia. Therefore, the Compensation Court’s finding is affirmed.
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