Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 10/02/2014
Format: 10/02/2014
Bobby R. Bean v. Johnson Controls, Inc. et al.
M2013-01010-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This appeal involves the compensability of an alleged aggravation of a pre-existing degenerative back condition. After the employee began experiencing increased and more severe pain in his back, he filed a workers’ compensation claim in the Chancery Court for Marshall County against his employer, its insurer, and the Second Injury Fund. Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded the employee temporary total and permanent partial disability benefits. The employer’s 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 Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 51. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Marshall County Workers Compensation Panel 04/30/14
Dennie Stough v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company
W2012-02275-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Michael Maloan

An employee sustained a compensable lower back injury, had surgery, returned to work, and settled his claim. Several months later, he re-injured his lower back. After several surgical procedures, he was unable to return to work. He filed this action for workers’ compensation benefits against his employer and the Second Injury Fund. The trial court awarded permanent total disability benefits, apportioning 50% of the award to the employer and 50% to the Fund. The Fund has appealed, contending that the trial court erred by assigning any liability to it because the later injury rendered the employee  totally disabled without regard to the first injury. We conclude that the trial court failed to provide the basis for its apportionment of liability between the Fund and the employer. We therefore reverse the trial court’s judgment to that extent and remand the case for further consideration on this issue.

Obion County Workers Compensation Panel 04/11/14
Jose Umanzor v. Zurich American Insurance Company et al.
W2012-02568-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

An employee asserted that he injured his lower back while working as a construction laborer for his employer. Approximately two years after the incident, the employee provided written notice of his injury to his employer. The employer denied the claim, contending that the employee failed to give timely notice of his injury and that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court agreed with the employer and entered judgment in its favor. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 04/10/14
Jennifer Gray v. Zanini Tennessee, Inc.
M2013-00762-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Donald P. Harris
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

The trial court dismissed the employee’s workers’ compensation action because the employee had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing suit as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(a)(1) (2008). The employee’s 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 of the trial court.

Franklin County Workers Compensation Panel 04/01/14
Associated Wholesale Grocers v. Lawrence F. Ling
M2013-01317-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Donald P. Harris
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

In this workers’ compensation action, the employee alleged that he sustained a compensable aggravation of his pre-existing spinal condition. The trial court ruled that he failed to satisfy his burden of proof and dismissed the complaint. 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 in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 04/01/14
David DeGalliford v. United Cabinet Company, LLC et al.
M2013-00943-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda McClendon

In early 2012, an employee alleged that he suffered a gradual injury to his cervical spine due to strenuous repetitive tasks and heavy lifting required by his employment. He reported the injury to his employer, who denied the claim on the basis that the injury was not compensable under Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-102(12)(C)(ii) (Supp. 2011). This statute, which applies to injuries occurring after July 1, 2011, provides that “cumulative trauma conditions” do not include injuries resulting from repetitive work activities “unless such conditions arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of employment.” The employee’s treating physician testified that the employee’s repetitive tasks at work were the primary cause of his injury. Another doctor, however, who examined the employee’s medical records on behalf of his employer, testified that the employee’s injury was caused by a degenerative disc disease common in the aging process. The trial court ruled for the employee, and the employer appealed. In accordance with 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 hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it relied on the testimony of the employee’s treating physician, who testified that the employee’s work activities were the primary cause of the employee’s injuries. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 03/17/14
George Hollars v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al.
M203-00144-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge E. Riley Anderson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor C. K. Smith

In this workers’ compensation appeal the employer asserts that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that the employee’s injury was permanent. The employee, a package car driver for United Parcel Service, experienced two episodes of heat exhaustion while at work. The trial court found the heat exhaustion to be permanent and awarded benefits for permanent partial disability and the employer 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 decision of the trial court.

Wilson County Workers Compensation Panel 03/07/14
Alvin Hayes v. Sharp Transport Co. and Cherokee Insurance Co.
M2013-00932-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge E. Riley Anderson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Stella Hargrove

In accordance with 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 suffered compensable injuries to his lower back and right shoulder. Employer asserted that the permanent disability award for employee’s injury should be capped at one and one half times his impairment rating because employee had voluntarily resigned. Following a bench trial the trial court found that the statutory cap of one and one half times did not apply to employee’s permanent partial disability benefits because employee’s retirement was reasonably related to his workplace injury and therefore he did not have a meaningful return to work. Based on an impairment rating of eleven percent the trial court awarded 35 percent permanent partial disability benefits. We find there was a meaningful return to work and accordingly we reverse the trial court judgment.

Lawrence County Workers Compensation Panel 02/20/14
Johnnie Hudson v. Pro Logistics, et al.
M2013-00387-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Corlew, III

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 the employee suffered compensable injuries to his neck and back stemming from a motor vehicle accident and awarded him 54% permanent partial disability to the body as a whole. The employer has appealed, asserting the trial court’s award is excessive. Having carefully reviewed the record, we reverse the trial court’s judgment with respect to the impairment to the cervical spine and affirm in all other respects.

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 02/20/14
Tamara Simerly v. Crete Carrier Corporation
M2013-00236-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge E. Riley Anderson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Corlew, III

Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, 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. In this case the employee was an over-the-road truck driver attempting to make a delivery of refrigerated goods in Atlanta, Georgia. Because she was late, she was forced to wait 11 hours in her truck in high temperatures without air conditioning. She suffered a ruptured aneurysm as she exited the truck to complete the unloading process, which she alleged was caused by the high temperatures, anxiety, and emotional stress. Her employer denied the claim, and she filed suit for workers’ compensation benefits in Rutherford County, Tennessee. The trial court found that the ruptured aneurysm was caused by the stress of work conditions and awarded 65% permanent partial disability. The employer has appealed. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 02/14/14
Albert H. Simpkins v. A. O. Smith Corporation, et al.
M2012-02665-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

This appeal calls into question the sufficiency of the evidence to support an award of workers’ compensation disability benefits related to the aggravation of a pre-existing cervical injury. After settling a claim for an earlier lumbar and cervical injury, the employee filed a new claim in the Circuit Court for Williamson County seeking compensation for aggravation of that injury. The employer insisted that the employee’s condition was a continuation of the prior injury. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that, as a result of performing repetitive tasks, the employee had sustained a new cervical injury and awarded the employee permanent total disability benefits. The employer appealed, asserting (1) that the evidence preponderates against the findings regarding causation and permanency and (2) that the testimony of the employee’s examining physician should be disregarded because it does not comply with the AMA Guides. 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 have determined that the evidence does not support the trial court’s conclusion that the employee sustained a new injury and, therefore, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Workers Compensation Panel 01/15/14
Samuel Arthur Skaggs v. Marty Phillips d/b/a Phillips Concrete et al.
E2012-02479-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E.G. Moody

The employee was injured when a concrete grinder he was operating exploded, breaking his jaw and several teeth. After his jaw was surgically repaired and he underwent extensive dental treatment, the employee did not return to work for his employer. The employee filed an action in the Chancery Court for Sullivan County seeking permanent disability benefits. The trial court found that the employee sustained a permanent vocational disability of 35%. The employer appealed, claiming that the trial court erred by failing to exclude the testimony of the treating dentist and by finding that the employee sustained any permanent disability. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to a Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sullivan County Workers Compensation Panel 01/15/14
Bessie Cawthon v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City, et al.
W2012-02138-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Michael Maloan

An employee sustained a work-related injury to her shoulder while working as a licensed practical nurse at her employer’s hospital. After returning to work in a modified-duty position for several months after a second shoulder surgery, the employee elected to have knee replacement surgery to remedy pre-existing arthritis that was unrelated to her work. Unfortunately, the knee replacement surgery caused the employee to develop “foot drop.” The employee subsequently exhausted her available leave time because of a prolonged recovery, and the employer terminated her employment. The employee filed the present action seeking permanent total disability benefits. The trial court initially found that the employee had a meaningful return to work and capped her award at one and one-half times her anatomical impairment. The court, however, granted the employee’s motion to alter or amend and found that she did not have a meaningful return to work and  that she was permanently and totally disabled. The trial court apportioned the award between the employer and the Second Injury Fund, and both parties appealed. We conclude that the employee is not permanently and totally disabled and that she  made a meaningful return to work after her shoulder surgeries. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Obion County Workers Compensation Panel 01/15/14