Huit v. Ashwater Burns, Inc.Annotate this Case
Before the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission was created, an Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board decision could be appealed to the superior court, and a party dissatisfied with the superior court’s final resolution of the case then could appeal to the Supreme Court. Construing the appellate rules, the Supreme Court decided in "Borough of Juneau v. Thibodeau," "a decision of a superior court, acting as an intermediate appellate court, which reverses . . . the decision of an administrative agency and remands for further proceedings, is a non-final order of the superior court." Joseph Huit worked for Ashwater Burns, Inc. in 2010. Early in November he was working on a remodel project, and as part of the job he removed a water-damaged vanity from a bathroom. As he was carrying the vanity he scratched his abdomen on a protruding drywall screw; he showed the scratch to some people at the job site, including his brother Steven, but did not file a report of injury. According to Huit at some point later in November the scratch appeared to heal. In early December, Huit felt ill at work, so he went to the emergency room. He would later be diagnosed with “spontaneous endocarditis” with metastatic lesions growing on his spleen, kidneys, brain and heart. By January 2011 Huit had severe aortic regurgitation, and in February he underwent aortic valve replacement surgery. Huit first thought about the possibility that the infection was work related while he was hospitalized; he explained that after the doctors told him he had an infection, he remembered the scratch and notified his employer. Ashwater Burns filed a report of injury on December 21 and later controverted benefits, relying on a cardiologist’s opinion formed after reviewing Huit’s medical records. This appeal presented the Supreme Court's first opportunity to consider whether "Thibodeau," should apply to Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission decisions. After review, the Court concluded that it should. This appeal also presented a first opportunity to consider, at least in part, the legislature’s 2005 amendments to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act’s presumption analysis. The Court reversed the Commission’s application of that analysis in this case and modified its earlier precedent.