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Ribeau v. Russell Stover Candies

Court of Appeals of Kansas

August 29, 2014

VERONICA RIBEAU, Appellant,
v.
RUSSELL STOVER CANDIES and TRAVELERS INDEMNITY CO. OF AMERICA, Appellees

Page 922

Appeal from Workers Compensation Board.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

1. A claimant seeking compensation under the Workers Compensation Act has the burden to prove, as a factual matter, that (1) he or she was injured; and (2) there was a causal connection between the claimant's injury and his or her employment, both as to the nature and timing of the injury. Injury arises out of employment if it arises out of the nature, conditions, obligations, and incidents of the employment, and in the course of employment if it happened while the claimant was at work in the employer's service.

2. Under K.S.A. 2008 Supp. 44-508(e), an injury is not deemed to have been directly caused by the employment where the employee suffers a disability as a result of the natural aging process or by the normal activities of day-to-day living.

3. An appellate court reviews a challenge to the Workers Compensation Board's factual findings in light of the record as a whole to determine whether the findings are supported to the appropriate standard of proof by substantial evidence.

4. Although not statutorily defined, " substantial evidence" refers to such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as being sufficient to support a conclusion.

5. The adequacy of the evidence in the record before the court to support a particular finding of fact shall be judged in light of all the relevant evidence in the record cited by any party that detracts from such finding as well as all of the relevant evidence in the record, compiled pursuant to K.S.A. 77-620, and amendments thereto, cited by any party that supports such finding, including any determinations of veracity by the presiding officer who personally observed the demeanor of the witness and the agency's explanation of why the relevant evidence in the record supports its material findings of fact. In reviewing the evidence in light of the record as a whole, the court shall not reweigh the evidence or engage in de novo review. K.S.A. 2013 Supp. 77-621(d).

6. Under this standard of review, the appellate court must determine whether the evidence supporting the Board's decision has been so undermined by cross-examination or other evidence that it is insufficient to support the agency's conclusion.

William L. Phalen and Crystal D. Marietta, of Pittsburg, for appellant.

Brenden W. Webb, of Hoffmeister, Doherty & Webb, LLC, of Overland Park, for appellees.

Before STANDRIDGE, P.J., PIERRON, J., and JOHNSON, S.J.

OPINION

Page 923

[50 Kan.App.2d 825] Pierron, J.:

Veronica Ribeau appeals the order of the Workers Compensation Board (Board) denying her claim for compensation for an alleged peanut and nut allergy arising out of and in the course of her employment at Russell Stover Candies (RSC). Ribeau argues the Board erred in finding she had failed to prove the existence of the peanut and nut allergy and failed to establish a causal connection between the allergy and her work at RSC. Ribeau also argues that RSC should be estopped from denying the existence of her work-related allergy where it terminated her employment at RSC due to the allergy. We affirm.

Ribeau is a 50-year-old woman with a high school education and no specialized vocational training. She worked as a cook and service worker for about 4 1/2 years at RSC's candy manufacturing plant in Iola, Kansas. Ribeau testified that as part of her job duties, she worked with peanuts and nuts. She denied that she had any food allergies before she began working at RSC. She claims she began developing symptoms after she was accidentally sprayed in the face with what she believed to be a combination of metrin (soybean-based) oil and peanut oil, which was used to lubricate belts and trays at the plant. Ribeau stated that after she was sprayed in the face, she experienced symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, and burning of her eyes, nose, and mouth. She reported the accident to a supervisor and was told to use the eye wash station. [50 Kan.App.2d 826] The plant nurse gave her Benadryl and told her lie down for a while. Ribeau left work early that day. She returned to work the next day.

Ribeau testified that from the date of the accident around December 2006 until she was terminated from her employment at RSC on December 8, 2008, she experienced symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, rash, and vomiting on days she worked with nuts. Ribeau reported these symptoms to her supervisors and the plant nurse, who told her to take ibuprofen and Benadryl and to make sure she got off the plant floor if nauseated. She estimated that she vomited at work at least 30 to 40 times. Ribeau stated she began treatment with her family doctor, who told her to take Benadryl and carry an epi-pen in case she had a bad reaction. Ribeau reported this treatment to RSC but allegedly continued to work with nuts and continued to experience symptoms.

Page 924

Ribeau moved to a different town and changed family doctors to Dr. Amy Madril. Dr. Madril testified that some time after October 2008, her office received a phone call from somebody stating that Ribeau had been sent home from work at RSC because she had a reaction working with cashews. The caller asked for a referral to an allergy specialist. Dr. Madril's office records do not indicate whether the call was made by Ribeau, RSC, or someone else. Dr. Madril made a referral to Dr. Michael Baker, an ear/nose/throat doctor who practiced allergy medicine.

Dr. Baker testified he saw Ribeau on December 2, 2008, and took her medical history. Ribeau told Dr. Baker she had been sprayed in the face with a combination of metrin oil and peanut oil and thereafter began having increased reactions to peanuts and nuts. Over the past 2 years, Ribeau was no longer able to eat peanut butter because it caused her throat and chest to tighten and swell. Based on Ribeau's self-reported medical history of reactions after exposure to peanuts and nuts, most recently a reaction 2 weeks earlier while working on the pecan and cashew line at RSC, Dr. Baker diagnosed Ribeau with a peanut and nut allergy. By history, Dr. ...


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