ROGER A. STREET, Respondent,
WEYERHAEUSER COMPANY, Petitioner.
Company, Roger A. Street's former employer, challenges
Street's award of industrial insurance benefits for his
low back condition, a claimed occupational disease. An
"occupational disease" is a disease that
"arises naturally and proximately out of
employment." RCW 51.08.140. In Dennis v. Department
of Labor & Industries, 109 Wn.2d 467, 477, 745 P.2d
1295 (1987), this court held that a worker seeking benefits
for an occupational disease must present expert medical
testimony that the disease "arise[s]
'proximately'" out of employment. Weyerhaeuser
argues that in light of Dennis, such a worker must
also present expert medical testimony that the disease
"arises naturally" out of employment.
Court of Appeals rejected Weyerhaeuser's argument,
holding that neither Dennis nor any other appellate
decision requires Street to present expert medical testimony
to show that his back condition "arose naturally"
from employment. Because there was medical testimony
supporting the "arises proximately" requirement and
lay testimony supporting the "arises naturally"
requirement, the appeals court held that Street proved his
low back condition is an occupational disease and affirmed
the jury award of benefits. We affirm the Court of Appeals.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
worked for Weyerhaeuser or its subsidiary (Norpac) his entire
career. In 1991, Street began working in one of Norpac's
paper mills, where he held various positions for the next 20
years. Although Street had back problems prior to working in
the paper mill, he did not find the problems disabling until
he was injured at the mill in 2011. More than one year later,
Street applied for workers' compensation benefits due to
that injury. The Department of Labor and Industries
(Department) treated the application as an injury claim and
denied it as untimely.
that year, the Department affirmed the denial and sent Street
a separate letter stating that the claim was for an injury,
not an occupational disease. Compare RCW 51.28.050
(worker must file injury claim within one year of the date on
which the injury occurred), with RCW 51.28.055(1)
(worker must file occupational disease claim within two years
of the date the worker had notice of the occupational disease
or of the ability to file a claim for disability benefits).
Street appealed the Department's order and letter to the
Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (Board), clarifying
that he intended to file an occupational disease claim.
Weyerhaeuser moved for an order granting summary judgment and
dismissing Street's appeal. An industrial appeals judge
granted Weyerhaeuser partial summary judgment, dismissing
Street's claim as untimely to the extent he alleged an
injury, but directing the case to go forward on an
occupational disease theory.
industrial appeals judge conducted hearings, at which Street,
his family members, his supervisor, and three medical experts
testified that his duties as an assistant winder operator
included placing cores-dense cardboard at the center of a
paper roll-into the winder of the paper machine so that the
machine could produce individual paper rolls. His duties also
included monitoring paper machines, repairing broken
machines, "manhandling" paper rolls by grabbing and
pushing the core of the roll, bending over to sand cores, and
tacking bar codes onto the finished paper rolls. The paper
rolls were approximately 40 to 50 inches in diameter and
weighed on average 1, 000 pounds. The cores, on which the
rolls were placed, weighed on average 2 to 10 pounds. Street
worked 12-hour shifts with few breaks, if any. Some of
Street's work became automated over the last 10 years,
and during the last couple of years, Street worked in a less
demanding monitoring role about 30 percent of the time.
T. Moore, Street's supervisor of two to five years, gave
slightly different testimony regarding Street's role.
Moore testified that Street held the less demanding
monitoring role about 75 percent of the time, that Street sat
approximately 20 percent of the time as an assistant winder
operator, and that workers typically had help manhandling the
paper rolls, which might happen 0 to 12 times a day.
Patricia Peterson, Street's primary care physician of 20
years, testified that she was familiar with the nature of
Street's work "[t]o some degree" and described
his role in the paper mill as a "very heavy job, ... a
moving job, ... [not] just a sit around and watch things go
job." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 313, 315, 319, 321. She
testified that she diagnosed Street with chronic low back
pain related to degenerative arthritis and degenerative
disease of the spine, which can occur over time from
repetitive use. Although on Street's short-term
disability claim form she had checked a box indicating that
the condition was not work related, she later testified on a
more probable than not basis that the kind of work Street
did, as opposed to everyday wear and tear of daily living, at
least in part caused Street's low back condition because
he used "a lot of his body weight" and his
"abdominal muscles" in manhandling paper rolls.
Id. at 322-23, 326. Dr. Peterson acknowledged that
even though Street had come in with complaints of low back
pain unrelated to work (e.g., moving furniture, doing yard
work), the repetition of handling paper rolls was a factor
contributing to Street's low back condition.
Yuri Tsirulnikov, an osteopathic physician who treated Street
five to six times, testified that Street's work more
probably than not contributed to his low back condition,
though he could not say to "what extent" it
contributed. Id. at 362, 364, 367-68, 371. He
indicated that Street's weight, genetics, and
"probably some other physical activities that he did at
home" also contributed to Street's low back
condition. Id. at 384.
Thomas Rosenbaum, a neurosurgeon who examined Street at
Weyerhaeuser's request, opined that Street's work did
not proximately cause his low back condition. He diagnosed
Street with lumbar spondylosis and degenerative disc disease,
and testified that genetics and age are the main factors
contributing to these conditions. In his opinion,
Street's physical exertion at work contributed to his low
back condition "maybe ... two or three percent, "
if at all. Id. at 431-32.
conclusion of the proceedings, the industrial appeals judge
issued a proposed order and decision reversing the
Department's denial of benefits. Weyerhaeuser petitioned
the full Board for review. The full Board affirmed the
Department's denial of benefits, but directed the
Department to find that Street filed an occupational disease
claim that was rejected because he failed to prove his low
back condition arose "naturally and proximately"
out of distinctive conditions of his employment. Id.
at 49, 54-55.
appealed the Board's order to Cowlitz County Superior
Court. Weyerhaeuser moved for judgment as a matter of law on
the ground that Street failed to present expert medical
testimony that his low back condition "arose
naturally" out of distinctive conditions of his
employment. The superior court denied the motion and sent the
case to trial. The jury found that Street's back
condition is an occupational disease that arose
"naturally and proximately" out of the distinctive
conditions of his employment. Id. at 532. Based on
the verdict, the superior court reversed the Board's
order and remanded to the Department with directions to
accept Street's occupational disease claim. Mat 534-35.
appealed to Division Two of the Court of Appeals, which
transferred the matter to Division One of the Court of
Appeals. Order Transferring Cases, Street v. Weyerhaeuser
Co., No. 48559-1-II (Wash.Ct.App. Aug. 16, 2016). In an
unpublished decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding
that Street was not required to present medical testimony to
satisfy the "arises naturally" requirement, and
that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that
Street's back condition qualifies as an occupational
disease. Street v. Weyerhaeuser Co., No. 75644-3-1,
slip op. at 1, 4, 7 (Wash.Ct.App. Nov. 28, 2016)
then filed a petition for review in this court, which we
granted. Street v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 187 Wn.2d 1025,
391 P.3d 457 (2017).
Industrial Insurance Act (IIA), Title 51 RCW, provides
"sure and certain relief for workers, injured in their
work." RCW 51.04.010. Workers "who suffer
disability from an occupational disease in the course of
employment" are entitled to "the same compensation
benefits" as injured workers. RCW 51.32.180. In the
present case, Street alleges that his chronic low back
condition is an occupational disease. CP at 57.
disease' means such disease ... as arises naturally and
proximately out of employment." RCW 51.08.140. In
Dennis,109 Wn.2d 467, this court discussed the
requirements for such a claim. "Arises proximately"
means that employment conditions "'must be the
proximate cause of the disease ... so that the disease would
not have been contracted but for the [employment]
condition.'" Id. at 477 (footnote omitted)
(quoting Simpson Logging Co. v. Dep't of Labor &
Indus.,32 Wn.2d 472, 479, 202 P.2d 448 (1949)). This
"causal connection... must be established by competent