Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 12/03/2016
Format: 12/03/2016
Keith A. Lay v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc., a/k/a Bridgestone Americas Holding, Inc, and Old Republic Insurance Co.
M2015-00057-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

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. The trial court found that Employee suffered work-related injuries to both shoulders and awarded twenty percent permanent partial disability to the body as a whole. Employer argues that the trial court erred in finding that Employee suffered a work-related injury and contends that the award was excessive. We affirm the trial court’s judgment. 

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 12/29/15
Dean Logan v. Tracie McCormick, Inc., et al
M2015-00300-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This case concerns injuries arising from two separate incidents. The employee, a truck driver, was involved in a motor vehicle accident on May 13, 2008. He alleged that he sustained injuries to his neck, mid-back, lower back, right shoulder and left knee as a result of that event. On July 12, 2012, he injured his left shoulder when he slipped while exiting his truck. His employer admitted the compensability of all of the injuries except the lower back, contending that the employee’s lower back problems pre-existed the accident. The trial court ruled that the back injury was compensable and awarded 80.5% permanent partial disability benefits for the combined injuries. The employer has appealed, asserting that the preponderance of the evidence does not prove that the back injury was compensable. 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.

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 12/22/15
Karen Alford v. HCA Healthcare Services of Tennessee, Inc., et al.
M2014-02455-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The plaintiff, a nurse, alleged that she sustained a hip injury in the course of her employment. She further alleged that she sustained an injury to the nerves of her leg as a result of treatment for the hip injury. In addition, she alleged a mental injury. Her employer contended that her hip problems were preexisting and that she failed to sustain her burden of proof as to the nerve and mental injuries. The trial court found that the hip and nerve injuries were compensable but the alleged mental injury was not. It also awarded certain medical expenses from unauthorized physicians. Employer has appealed, asserting that the evidence preponderates against the award of benefits. 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 the award of medical expenses but otherwise affirm the judgment.

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 12/15/15
Jimmy Segroves v. Union Carbide, et al.
E2015-00572-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

An employee filed an action seeking workers’ compensation benefits for hearing loss and breathing problems in 2003. In 2005, the hearing loss claim was settled, and the breathing dysfunction claim was dismissed with prejudice. In 2011, the employee was diagnosed with asbestosis-related lung disease. He filed this action, seeking benefits for that condition. The trial court granted his employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the claim was barred by the 2005 settlement and judgment. The employee 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 reverse the judgment and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Roane County Workers Compensation Panel 12/10/15
Robert Morrow v. MBI and/or Mr. Bult's Inc.
W2014-00546-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles C. McGinley

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.  In this case, it is undisputed that Employee sustained an injury arising out of and in the scope of his employment; the issue on appeal, however, is whether Employee carried his burden of proving that his work-related injury caused a permanent disability.  The trial court found that Employee failed to carry his burden of proving any permanent disability resulting from the injury.  Based on our review of the evidence, we agree with the trial court’s finding, and we therefore affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Benton County Workers Compensation Panel 11/30/15
Donna Callins v. NSK Steering Systems America, Inc.
W2014-01225-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge George R. Ellis

Employee aggravated a pre-existing asymptomatic condition in her shoulder while working for Employer and failed to make a meaningful return to work.  The trial court found employee to be 100 percent disabled and awarded permanent total disability benefits.  Employer appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in determining that employee sustained a compensable injury in the absence of anatomical change and in awarding employee permanent total disability benefits.  After our review of the record, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

Gibson County Workers Compensation Panel 11/30/15
Jack Parks et al v. Sun Belt Management Company et al.
E2014-01968-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

The plaintiffs voluntarily non-suited an action against the defendants. Later, this suit against the same defendants for the same cause of action was filed. The plaintiffs in their second suit failed to have process issued and served on the defendants. The defendants moved to dismiss based upon this failure. The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ suit. They appeal. We affirm.

Washington County Workers Compensation Panel 11/30/15
Kathy Bode v. The Hartford Insurance Company
E2014-01749-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Frank Brown, III

The employee successfully pursued a Request for Assistance (“RFA”) through the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“DOL”) for treatment of deep vein thrombosis resulting from a fall at work in February 2006. In January 2013, she filed a second RFA alleging that she required knee replacement surgery as a result of the same incident. DOL denied her request, and she filed this action in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County. The trial court dismissed her claim based on the expiration of the statute of limitations, laches, waiver, and estoppel. She has appealed that decision. 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 find that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s granting of the motion for summary judgment on the statute of limitations and reverse the judgment on that issue. Additionally, there are genuine issues of fact as to the equitable defenses. Therefore, we remand the case for further consideration consistent with this ruling.

Hamilton County Workers Compensation Panel 11/25/15
Jeffrey A. Miller v. State of Tennessee
E2015-00034-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William O. Shults
A parking lot attendant injured his neck in the course of his employment with the University of Tennessee. He claimed that he was not able to return to his previous work and filed for total and permanent disability. The Claims Commission found that he was permanently and totally disabled. The University has appealed, contending that the Commission erroneously admitted certain testimony from the employee’s vocational evaluator. It further contends that the evidence preponderates against the finding of permanent total disability. 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. After our review, we affirm the judgment.
 
Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 11/06/15
Vanderbilt University v. Pamela A. Jones
M2014-00722-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Ben H. Cantell, Sr. Judge
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

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. The trial court found that Employee’s bilateral knee replacements related to a work-related injury she suffered on March 20, 2004, and that any claim for compensation related to an injury she sustained on February 6, 2011 was barred by the doctrines of judicial and equitable estoppel. Employee has appealed. We reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 10/19/15
Barbara Edwards v. Engstrom Services et al.
E2014-01777-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Frank Brown, III

An employee sustained various injuries in a motor vehicle accident. Her employer denied the claim for workers‘ compensation benefits, contending that because the employee was driving to her home from work, the injury was not compensable. The trial court awarded benefits, including permanent total disability, based upon its finding that at the time of the accident the employee was returning to her office after an employment-related client visit. The employer has appealed, raising several issues which primarily relate to whether the evidence presented was sufficient to support 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 of the trial court.

Hamilton County Workers Compensation Panel 09/28/15
Guy Ratledge v. Langley Enterprises, LLC, et al.
E2014-02089-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

The employee fell from a roof in the course of his employment and sustained fractures of his left leg. The injury required three surgical procedures, including a fusion of his injured ankle, which resulted in the shortening of one leg. He asserted that his altered gait from the leg injury has caused disability to his lower back and that the permanency of his injuries has resulted in severe clinical depression. When the employee and the employer were unable to resolve the issue of workers' compensation benefits, the employee filed suit. At the conclusion of the proof, the trial court found that the leg injury extended to the body as a whole and, further, that the employee, who had been unable to return to work, was entitled to an award of benefits in excess of six times the anatomical impairment pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-242 (2008 & Supp. 2013). The employer appealed, contending that the trial court erred by assigning disability to the body as a whole and by awarding a 90% vocational disability, which is in excess of six times the anatomical disability of 12%. 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.

Hamilton County Workers Compensation Panel 09/28/15
Inga Brock v. Hewlett-Packard Company
M2014-01889-CC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

The employee sustained a work-related lower back injury, which required surgery. Her treating physician assigned an 8% permanent impairment rating, and referred her to a pain management specialist. The employee’s lawyer arranged for an independent medical evaluation with a neurologist, who assigned the employee 23% permanent impairment for her back injury and 2% permanent impairment for the sleep interruption she experienced as a result of ongoing back pain. Because the impairment ratings differed, the employee was seen by a physician in the Tennessee Medical Impairment Rating Registry (“MIR”), as established by statute. The MIR physician, an orthopedic surgeon, assigned the employee a 9% permanent impairment. The depositions of the evaluating physician and the MIR physician were introduced at trial, as well as the medical records of the treating physician, the employee’s testimony, and that of several lay witnesses. The trial court refused to allow the employer to call a vocational expert to testify, because the employer had failed to disclose the identity of this witness at an earlier time. At the conclusion of the proof, the trial court found that, regardless of the permanent impairment rating applied, the employee is unable to work and is therefore entitled to permanent and total disability benefits. Alternatively, the trial court found that the employee had introduced clear and convincing evidence to rebut the statutory presumption of accuracy that applies to the MIR physician’s impairment rating and adopted the 23% permanent impairment rating of the evaluating physician, even though his assignment of 2% permanent impairment for the employee’s sleep interruption was inconsistent with The AMA Guides to Permanent Impairment, 6th Edition (“AMA Guides”). The employer 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 in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We conclude that: (1) the trial court did not err by excluding the employer’s vocational expert; (2) the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding of permanent and total disability; and (3) the trial court erred by concluding that the employee rebutted by clear and convincing evidence the statutory presumption of accuracy that applies to the MIR physician’s impairment rating. Accordingly, we reverse and modify the judgment of the trial court, and considering the MIR physician’s impairment rating and the lay testimony concerning the employee’s limitations, award the employee 45% permanent partial disability benefits.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 09/23/15
Free Service Tire Company v. Mae Reynolds et al
E2014-02233-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John S. McLellan, III

The trial court awarded death benefits based on the statutory maximum benefit of the State’s average weekly wage, rather than basing the maximum on the decedent’s weekly wages. It also awarded lump sum benefits to some of the decedent’s dependents. 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. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for entry of an order consistent with this opinion.

Sullivan County Workers Compensation Panel 09/16/15
Donna Swaner v. G4S Youth Services, LLC, And New Hampshire Insurance Company
M2014-01726-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

The primary issue in this appeal is whether a teacher who was hurt on the job after being terminated but while she was still working under a temporary extension of her contract, can claim that she did not get a meaningful return to work after she reached maximum medical improvement. The trial court held that the statutory cap of one and one-half her medical impairment rating did apply because the employee had a meaningful return to work. This appeal has been referred to the Special Worker’s Compensation Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We reverse the trial court’s determination that the one and one-half times the medical impairment rating applies and adopt the court’s alternative finding that the employee sustained a fifty percent permanent partial disability. We affirm the lower court’s judgment in all other respects.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 09/14/15
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