Doctors, lawyers and judges often ignore South Dakota’s adoption of an evidence-based medicine standard in workers’ compensation claims. SDCL 62-1-15 was enacted in 1995 and simply provides:

“In any proceeding or hearing pursuant to this title, evidence concerning any injury shall be given greater weight if supported by objective medical findings.”

Despite its clear and concise language, the statute is seldom relied upon when accepting or rejecting a medical opinion. While the law does not require objective findings in order to sustain a workers’ compensation claim, the medical evidence presented to support the claim must not be speculative. Vollmer v. Walmart Store Inc., 729 NW2d 377 (SD 2007).  Medical evidence must be precise and well supported and based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty or probability. Id. A medical opinion cannot be based solely upon a temporal sequence. Darling v. West River Masonry, Inc., 777 NW2d 363 (SD 2010).  According to our Supreme Court, “arguments relying solely on temporal sequence have ‘little value in the science of fixing medical causation.’”

The all-too-common opinion from the treating physician that the work incident caused the condition because the condition didn’t exist before the work incident should have no value in a South Dakota workers’ compensation claim. As my beloved mentor used to tell me, “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” which is Latin for “after this, therefore resulting from it” is not legally sufficient to support medical causation. The law requires an adequate explanation of the opinion based on science and evidence. As quoted above, SDCL 62-1-15 dictates that the fact-finder give great weight to opinions based on objective medical evidence. Those opinions which are based on objective medical evidence and are precise and well supported should be accepted regardless of whether or not the opinions come from the treating doctor, a record review or a compulsory medical examination.