Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 10/21/2014
Format: 10/21/2014
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
Aramark, Indemnity Insurance Company of North America and Sue Ann Head, Admin. v. Jeremy Nix
M2012-02608-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carol Soloman

An employee alleged he suffered a compensable injury to his lower back.  His employer disputed a compensable injury occurred.  In the alternative, the employer asserted any award of permanent disability benefits should be limited to one and one-half times the medical impairment because the employee had been terminated for misconduct. The trial court found employee had sustained a compensable injury and did not have a meaningful return  to work.  It awarded 42% permanent  partial disability (“PPD”), six times the medical impairment.  The employer has appealed, asserting the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s findings. The employer also contends the award was excessive and the trial court erred by denying its motion to stay a portion of the judgment requiring payment of certain medical expenses. 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.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 01/14/14
Jeffrey L. Beeler v. DeRoyal Industries, Inc., et al
E2012-02340-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge J.S. Daniel
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale C. Workman

An employee alleged that he sustained a gradual aggravation of a preexisting lower back condition during the eleven months he worked for his employer. The employer denied the claim, contending that the employee’s condition and symptoms were merely the natural progression of an injury that he had suffered many years earlier. The trial court found for the employer and dismissed the complaint. The employee has appealed that decision, asserting that the evidence preponderates against 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 a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 01/14/14
Timothy Gilliam v. Bridgestone North American Tire, LLC
M2012-02436-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Vanessa A. Jackson

This appeal involves an employee’s eligibility to seek reconsideration of a workers’ compensation settlement. An employee who sustained a compensable shoulder injury returned to work and settled his workers’ compensation claim. He was later laid off after his physician modified the restrictions for an earlier unrelated injury to his foot. Thereafter, the employee filed suit in the Chancery Court for Coffee County seeking reconsideration of the settlement of his shoulder injury. While this suit was pending,the employee returned to work as the result of a confidential settlement between his employer and the EEOC. Following a bench trial, the trial court determined that the employee could seek reconsideration of the settlement for his injured shoulder and awarded the employee additional disability benefits. The employer appealed and asserted that the employee was not entitled to seek reconsideration because, despite the layoff, he had never been “subsequently no longer employed by the pre-injury employer” as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6241(d)(1)(B)(ii)(2008). 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.

Coffee County Workers Compensation Panel 12/16/13
Michael Johnson v. Zeledyne, LLC et al.
M2013-00147-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara Byrd

This appeal takes issue with an award of permanent partial disability benefits in a workers’ compensation case. After sustaining a compensable knee injury, the employee filed suit seeking workers’ compensation benefits in the Circuit Court for Wilson County. Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded the employee the maximum disability award permitted by the circumstances. On this appeal, the employer takes issue with the trial court’s exclusion of the testimony of an evaluating physician on the ground that he had not personally examined the employee and with the amount of the disability award. 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 find that the trial court erred by excluding the physician’s testimony but that this error was harmless. We also find that the evidence supports the trial court’s disability award. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.

Wilson County Workers Compensation Panel 12/11/13
George Wayne Edwards v. Velma Childs, et al
E2012-02592-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Tony A. Childress
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

An employee worked as a skidder operator for the employer’s logging company. The employee’s face and eyelid were lacerated when the chainsaw that he was operating “kicked back.” The employee briefly returned to work within a few weeks after his accident, but he was unable to continue working due to eye pain. The employee subsequently underwent eight surgeries on his face and eye. Although the employer admitted that the employee’s injury was compensable, it argued that his award should be capped at one and one-half times his impairment rating and that the medical testimony concerning his impairment was not credible. The trial court found that the employee was permanently and totally disabled. The employer appealed, arguing that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s findings. The employee, however, contends that the employer’s appeal is frivolous and seeks liquidated damages pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-225(h). We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bradley County Workers Compensation Panel 12/10/13
Lorraine English v. Compass Group USA, Inc. d/b/a Canteen Vending Services
E2012-02732-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Larry H. Puckett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor R. Jerry Beck

An employee was injured when she fell from a stack of soft drinks while attempting to climb a wall to rescue and remove a feral cat from her employer’s premises. Her employer denied the claim, contending that she was on a private mission at the time of her injury and also that she had violated a safety rule by failing to use a ladder. The employee filed this action seeking workers’ compensation benefits. The trial was bifurcated. After the initial hearing, the trial court found that the employee’s action was related in part to her employment and, therefore, compensable. After a subsequent hearing, the court awarded benefits. The employer has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s findings on compensability and, in the alternative, that the claim is barred by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-110(a) (2008). 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.

Sullivan County Workers Compensation Panel 12/09/13
Linda Carten ex rel. Daniel John Carten v. MBI and/or Mr. Bult's, Inc., et al.
W2012-01507-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Tony A. Childress
Trial Court Judge: Judge C. Creed McGinley

An employee died from “traumatic asphyxiation” after a front-end loader accidentally pushed him into a trailer loaded with garbage. The employee’s widow sought workers’ compensation death benefits. The employer denied that the employee was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and raised the affirmative defenses of willful misconduct and willful failure to use a safety device. Following a trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the employer, and the employee’s widow appealed.  We affirm.

Benton County Workers Compensation Panel 11/14/13
Latarius Houston v. MTD Consumer Group, Inc.
W2012-01975-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge George R. Ellis

The parties stipulated that the employee suffered work-related injuries to both arms and that she was entitled to permanent partial disability benefits based on a 40 percent disability to each arm. The trial court found that the employee’s average weekly wage was $463.92 and that her compensation rate was $309.28 per week. The employer has appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in calculating the employee’s average weekly wage. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for computation of the average weekly wage and for entry of a revised judgment.

Haywood County Workers Compensation Panel 10/25/13
Michael Anthony Brim v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company et al.
M2012-01565-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Tom E. Gray

In this workers’ compensation case, the employee alleged that he injured his right shoulder and left hip when he fell while entering a vehicle. His employer accepted the shoulder injury as compensable, but denied the hip claim. The employee had surgery on both the shoulder and hip and eventually returned to his pre-injury job. The trial court found that the hip injury was compensable and awarded permanent disability benefits for both injuries. The employer has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding regarding the hip injury. 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.

Sumner County Workers Compensation Panel 10/23/13
Jessie Upchurch v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
W2012-01869-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Michael Maloan

The trial court awarded an employee 85% permanent partial disability to both ears. The employer has appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding the employee’s claim was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(b). We affirm the trial court’s determination that the employee’s claim was timely filed.

Obion County Workers Compensation Panel 10/18/13