Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 05/30/2016
Format: 05/30/2016
William DeMorato v. Cherokee Insurance Co.
W2014-01262-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Martha B. Brasfield
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Butler

Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers' compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. After finding that William DeMorato ("Employee") suffered a bilateral carpal tunnel injury in the course and scope of his employment with Trans Carriers, Inc. ("Employer"), the trial court awarded permanent partial disability benefits of 15% to each arm and temporary total disability benefits of $104,948.02. After Employer filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, however, the trial court concluded that Employee was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits. Employee argues that the trial court erred in finding that he was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits. Employer argues that the trial court erred in finding that Employee suffered a compensable injury. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

Madison County Workers Compensation Panel 09/10/15
Ralph Alexander v. A & A Express LLC
W2014-01643-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Martha B. Brasfield
Trial Court Judge: Judge F. Butler

Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers' compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Employee, Ralph Alexander, suffered an injury to his right shoulder during the course and scope of his employment with employer, A&A Express, LLC ("A&A"). He was ultimately treated surgically. Mr. Alexander was released from treatment with a permanent partial anatomical impairment but no permanent restrictions. He was initially returned to work at A&A, but later laid off due to lack of work. Mr. Alexander has not returned to work at A&A or been employed since then. Mr. Alexander claimed at trial that he was permanently totally disabled, which A&A denied. The trial court found that Mr. Alexander was not permanently totally disabled. The court found that Mr. Alexander had a vocational disability of 84% to the body as a whole, but limited his award to 42% permanent partial disability to the body as a whole pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann.  50-6-241. The trial court also awarded Mr. Alexander $525.66 in unpaid medical mileage. Mr. Alexander appeals, contending that the trial court erred in failing to find him permanently totally disabled. Mr. Alexander contends, alternatively, that the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel should find that the statutory cap of six times the anatomical impairment does not apply pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 50-6-242, or that the Panel should remand the case to the trial court for such a determination. Finally, Mr. Alexander contends that the trial court should not have accorded a presumption of correctness to the medical impairment rating which resulted from the Medical Impairment Review evaluation pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann.  50-6-204(d)(5). Having carefully reviewed the record, we affirm the trial court’s determination.

Chester County Workers Compensation Panel 09/10/15
Paul V. Permenter v. Briggs and Stratton Corporation
W2014-00582-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Martha B. Brasfield
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tony A. Childress

An employee alleged that he developed cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of his work activities. His employer provided medical treatment for the former condition but denied liability for both conditions at trial. The trial court found that the cubital tunnel syndrome was compensable but the carpal tunnel syndrome was not. It further found that Employee had a meaningful return to work, thus limiting his recovery to one and one-half times the anatomical impairment. The employee has appealed, asserting that the evidence preponderates against the trial court's findings regarding his carpal tunnel syndrome and return to work. The employer contends that the evidence preponderates against the finding that the cubital tunnel syndrome was compensable. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the judgment.

Dyer County Workers Compensation Panel 09/08/15
Chris Victory v. Bob Duckwiler, et al.
M2014-00952-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Wootten

The employee alleged that he sustained a compensable injury to his lower back. His employer initially accepted the claim but later denied it. The trial court found that the employee had sustained a compensable injury. It further found that the testimony of Employee's evaluating physician overcame the presumption of correctness attached to a Medical Impairment Registry (“MIR”) evaluation by clear and convincing evidence. The employer has appealed. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel pursuant to Tennesssee Supreme Court Rule 51. We conclude that the trial court erred by finding that the MIR presumption had been overcome, and we modify the judgment accordingly. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects.

Wilson County Workers Compensation Panel 09/08/15
Harold Gamble v. Mid-State Industrial Supply, Inc.
M2014-01043-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Burch

Employee filed this workers’ compensation action alleging that he suffered two low back injuries while working as a truck driver for Employer. The trial court held that Employee was not a credible witness and that Employee’s alleged workplace injuries did not occur within the course and scope of his employment. Employee has appealed the trial court’s decision. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Dickson County Workers Compensation Panel 09/03/15
Curtis Morgan v. TRW Automotive U.S., LLC
M2014-01273-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

The trial court found that Employee, a utility technician, suffered a work-related injury to his left hand and awarded thirty percent vocational disability. Employer has appealed, contending the trial court erred in awarding benefits for an injury to Employee's left hand rather than to his left index finger. This appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. Because there is no evidence suggesting unusual and extraordinary hand conditions stemming from the finger injury, we reverse the trial court's judgment. 

Wilson County Workers Compensation Panel 08/31/15
William Steven Still v. City of Knoxville
E2014-01841-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler

The employee, a police officer, was diagnosed with coronary artery disease after a routine stress test in February 2011. He sought workers’ compensation benefits, asserting he was entitled to the presumption of causation created by Tennessee Code Annotated section 7-51-201(a)(1). His employer denied the claim. At trial, both sides presented expert medical testimony from board-certified cardiologists. The trial court found that the employer did not rebut the statutory presumption and awarded benefits. The employer has appealed. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Upon review, we conclude that the employer rebutted the statutory presumption and the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding of causation. Therefore, we reverse the judgment.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 08/31/15
Mattress Firm, Inc., et al v. Deanna Mudryk
W2014-01017-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Weiss

The employee was the manager on duty at the employer’s store. After two persons posing as customers stole her purse from the store, the employee pursued the assailants into the employer’s parking lot. The employee sustained physical injuries in the encounter, and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the incident. The employee sought workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries. At the ensuing trial, only the employee’s psychological injuries were at issue. The trial court held the psychological injuries were compensable, citing the street risk doctrine. However, the trial court limited the employee’s damages to 1.5 times her impairment rating, based on the statutory cap contained in Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-241(d)(1)(A). After a careful review of the record, we affirm the trial court’s conclusion that the injuries are compensable under the street risk doctrine but reverse its application of the statutory cap to the employee’s injuries.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 08/24/15
Darlene Webb v. General Motors Company
W2014-00975-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin

The employee sustained an injury to her arm in the course of her employment. Her authorized treating physicians diagnosed her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and assigned a permanent impairment rating. At trial, the employer presented testimony from evaluating physicians who opined that she did not meet the criteria for the assigned impairment rating and that the treating physicians had misapplied the American Medical Association guidelines for the evaluation of permanent impairment. The trial court credited the testimony of the treating physicians and found that the employee suffered from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It awarded the employee permanent disability benefits. The employer appeals. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel. We affirm.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 08/21/15
United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Sabrina Brown
M2014-01332-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

The employee sustained a compensable injury to her right knee. While recovering from surgery, she reinjured the knee. Her employer asserted the reinjury was an intervening event which absolved the employer of further liability for medical care or temporary disability benefits. The trial court found the reinjury was not an intervening event, ordered medical benefits, and awarded additional temporary disability benefits. The employer has appealed, asserting the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.  

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 08/11/15
Dustin Hedgecoth v. Cummins Engine Company, Inc.
M2014-01274-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy Hollars

An employee injured his cervical spine in a fall while working for his employer. The trial
court found the employee failed to make a meaningful return to work and awarded the
employee permanent partial disability benefits. The employer appealed, arguing the
employee (1) failed to provide credible evidence of adequate and timely notice to the
employer of the injury, and (2) failed to meet his burden of proving medical causation of
his cervical spine condition. After our review of the record, we affirm the judgment of
the trial court.

Putnam County Workers Compensation Panel 08/07/15
Curtis D. Marvel v. Roane Transportation Services, LLC
E2014-01252-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ben Hooper, II

A truck driver alleged that he sustained a heart attack in the course and scope of his employment. His employer denied the claim, asserting that the heart attack was not caused by his employment. The trial court ruled that the claim was compensable and awarded the truck driver workers' compensation benefits. The employer has appealed. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal was referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

Sevier County Workers Compensation Panel 07/23/15
Samantha Adkins v. Studsvik, Inc.. et al.
E2014-00444-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

This action involves a dispute regarding workers’ compensation benefits. In July 2009, the plaintiff employee fell from a ladder in the course of her employment. Her employer initially provided medical care but denied that the employee sustained a compensable injury or permanent impairment. The employee filed this action on October 9, 2013. Upon a trial on the merits, the trial court found that (1) the employee did sustain a compensable, work-related injury and (2) the employee was permanently and totally disabled. The employer has appealed that ruling. On appeal, the employee also contends that the trial court erred by failing to award her the cost of unauthorized medical treatment. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Carter County Workers Compensation Panel 07/21/15
Charlie McRae v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00709-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert N. Hibbett

A corrections officer for the Tennessee Department of Corrections (“TDOC”) was assaulted in the course and scope of his work by an inmate. His workers’ compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) was settled and approved. The next month, the employee resigned from TDOC and began working at a local county jail. Thereafter, he filed a petition for reconsideration of his settlement based on his resignation. The State contended that his resignation was voluntary and not related to his work injury. The Claims Commission ruled that his resignation was reasonably related to his work injury and awarded additional disability benefits. The State has appealed. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the judgment of the Claims Commission.

Workers Compensation Panel 07/10/15
Daniel G. Lewis v. Comcast
E2014-00962-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

Daniel G. Lewis, the employee, was a cable technician who made a claim for workers' compensation benefits from Comcast, the employer, after he fell from a pole during a climbing recertification procedure. The employer provided medical care and paid temporary disability benefits but denied that the employee had sustained a permanent impairment or disability. Ultimately, the trial court awarded 70% permanent partial disability. The employer appeals, contending that the trial court erred by excluding evidence about the employee's history of drug abuse and by awarding permanent disability benefits. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Anderson County Workers Compensation Panel 06/17/15
Randy Carter v. City of Carthage, Tennessee and Tennessee Second Injury Fund
M2014-00852-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

Employee alleged that he sustained an injury to his lower back while lifting a heavy grate in the course of his work. Employer provided medical care, but denied that he had sustained a permanent injury. The trial court awarded permanent disability benefits. The employer has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s findings concerning causation, permanency, and impairment. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We reverse and dismiss.    

Smith County Workers Compensation Panel 06/16/15
Randy Shelton v. Joseph Construction Company, et al.
M2014-01743-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

The employee injured his back while performing heavy lifting at work. His workers’ compensation claim was settled with open medical benefits. Several years later, the employee’s authorized physician recommended a surgical procedure. The employer’s utilization review provider declined to approve the procedure, and the Department of Labor (“DOL”) sustained the denial. The employee then brought this action to compel the employer to provide the surgery. The trial court applied the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (“UAPA”), pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-101 et seq. (2005), and upheld the decision of the DOL. The employee has appealed. The appeal was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Upon our review of the record and the applicable law, we reverse the judgment of the trial court. 

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 06/03/15
Alfred Gamble v. Abitibibowater, Inc. et al.
E2014-00449-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett
An employee sustained an injury to his knee while attempting to repair a piece of heavy machinery owned by his employer. Because of a staph infection, three separate surgical procedures were required. The knee gradually healed, leaving a thick and sensitive scar. An independent medical examiner, who testified on behalf of the employee at trial, found a permanent impairment of 7% to the lower extremity and added 5% based upon the disfigurement section of the AMA Guides. The orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery found a permanent partial impairment of 7% to the lower extremity. A second orthopedist authorized by the employer assigned a permanent impairment of 2%. The trial court assigned a 7% permanent impairment to the lower extremity and also ruled that the employee did not have a meaningful return to work, thereby authorizing an award in excess of 1.5 times the medical impairment rating. In this appeal, the employee contends that he is entitled to an increase in the medical impairment rating from 7% to 12%. In response, the employer argues that the trial court erred by finding an impairment in excess of 2% and by ruling that the employee did not have a meaningful return to work. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
McMinn County Workers Compensation Panel 04/30/15
Jimmy Hensley v. Cocke Farmers Cooperative
E2014-00264-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex H. Ogle
This is a workers’ compensation settlement reconsideration case. Jimmy Hensley (“Employee”) was injured in April 2005. He was able to return to his pre-injury job and settled his claim for permanent disability benefits in November 2007. In May 2010, he was terminated by his employer, Cocke Farmers Cooperative (“Employer”). The minutes of Employer’s board of directors state that Employee was terminated without cause. Employee then sought reconsideration of the workers’ compensation settlement. Employer argued that Employee had been terminated for misconduct and, therefore, was not entitled to reconsideration. The Circuit Court for Cocke County (“the Trial Court”) granted Employee’s motion for partial summary judgment and then awarded additional permanent disability benefits after a hearing. Employer has appealed. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.
 
Cocke County Workers Compensation Panel 04/27/15
Arnold Harris v. Mr. Bult's Inc.
E2014-00961-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams
Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers’ compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Arnold Harris (“Employee”) injured his left shoulder in the course and scope of his employment with Mr. Bult’s, Inc. (“Employer”). The Chancery Court for Loudon County (“the Trial Court”) found that Employee did not have a meaningful return to work and awarded 40% permanent partial disability. Employer has appealed, arguing that the Trial Court erred in finding that Employee did not have a meaningful return to work. We affirm the Trial Court’s judgment.
 
Loudon County Workers Compensation Panel 04/23/15
Suzanne King v. Greene County School System
E2014-00484-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas Wright

An employee injured her back in a fall while working for her employer. The trial court assessed an 8% impairment to the body as a whole and awarded permanent partial disability benefits. The employer appealed, arguing that the employee failed to prove causation and that the trial court erred in obligating the employer to pay unauthorized medical expenses. After our review of the record, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

Greene County Workers Compensation Panel 04/14/15
Danny Dew v. Rees-Memphis, Inc., et al.
W2013-02528-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Tony A. Childress

An employee filed this action, seeking to compel his former employer to pay for a surgical procedure pursuant to the medical provision of a settlement approved by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The trial court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss on the ground that the action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations contained in Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-6-224(a)(3). The employee has appealed, arguing that § 50-6-224 does not apply to actions for post-judgment medical treatment. The employer seeks an award of attorney’s fees pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-119. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment.

Dyer County Workers Compensation Panel 04/13/15
Alexander Knight v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc. et al
M2014-00126-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim T. Hamilton

A grocery store employee alleged that he sustained an injury to his back at work and that he also sustained a mental injury as a result of the back injury. His employer denied that he suffered a permanent physical injury or any mental injury at all. The trial court awarded benefits for both injuries. The employer has appealed, asserting that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s findings. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment.

Maury County Workers Compensation Panel 03/31/15
Ariana Samadi v. Hilton Hotels Corp. D/B/A Embassy Suites Nashville Airport
M2014-00958-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe P. Binkley, Jr.

The employee filed a worker’s compensation action seeking reconsideration of a prior worker’s compensation settlement. The employer argued the employee was fired for misconduct which consisted of failing to complete reasonable work related tasks, and therefore, the employee was ineligible for reconsideration under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-241(d)(2)(B) (2008). The trial court held the employee’s refusal did not constitute misconduct because it was based upon a reasonable belief she could not complete the tasks assigned to her because of her prior work-related injury. The employer has appealed from this decision. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers’ compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 03/31/15
James Autwell v. Back Yard Burgers, Inc., et al.
W2014-00232-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Childers

The employee was injured in a motor vehicle accident while driving from doing a personal task in Alabama to a meeting for his employer in Mississippi.  The employer denied his workers’ compensation claim, so the employee filed this lawsuit.  The trial court awarded benefits based on a finding that the claimant was a “traveling employee.”  Its holding also implied, in the alternative, that the employee was on a “special errand” for the employer.  The employer has appealed.  The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51.  We conclude that the injury did not arise from or in the course of the employment, and therefore, reverse the award of benefits to the employee

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 03/16/15