Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 07/07/2015
Format: 07/07/2015
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
Eric Bike v. Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, Inc., et al.
W2013-02728-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Tony A. Childress
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong

An employee injured his knee while stepping off of a pallet.  The trial court found that the injury was idiopathic and denied the employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits.  The employee appealed.   We reverse the trial court’s judgment.  

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 03/13/15
Vaness Hobbs v. Auto-Owners Mutual Insurance Company
M2014-00532-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan

The sole issue presented in this workers’ compensation appeal is whether the trial court correctly found that the employee did not have a meaningful return to work. The employee, a Head Start teacher, sustained a compensable back injury.  She continued to work for about a year but then was not rehired because she had failed to meet a federal education mandate.  The trial court found that she had not made a meaningful return to work and awarded benefits in excess of one and one half times the an atomic alimpairment. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-6-241(d). 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 in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We reverse the trial court’s finding and remand for entry of a judgment based on one and one-half times the anatomical impairment.

Montgomery County Workers Compensation Panel 01/23/15
Eddie Roy Davis v. Youth Emergency Shelter et al.
E2014-00133-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael A. Faulk

The trial court awarded permanent total disability benefits to the employee for bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. It apportioned the award between the employer and the Second Injury Fund. Both have 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 the trial court in its award for permanent and total disability benefits for a subsequent scheduled member injury.

Hamblen County Workers Compensation Panel 01/15/15
Sarah Elizabeth Adams v. State of Tennessee
W2014-00540-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly M. Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Nancy C. Miller-Herron, Commissioner

An employee injured her shoulder while working for her employer and failed to make a meaningful return to work. The Claims Commission awarded the employee 55% permanent partial disability. The employer appealed, arguing that the award is excessive 1 because the Commissioner erred in assessing an 11% anatomical impairment rating and in applying a five times multiplier. We modify the Commissioner’s judgment, and affirm as modified.

Workers Compensation Panel 01/05/15
Joseph E. Peek v. Tri-Green Equipment, LLC, et al
M2013-02731-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Maddux

An employee was exposed to a chemical in the course of his employment. He alleged that he developed a disabling pulmonary condition as a result of the exposure.  His employer denied that the condition was caused by the exposure. The trial court found for the employee and awarded permanent partial disability and other benefits.  The employer has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the finding of causation.  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.  

Putnam County Workers Compensation Panel 12/30/14
Chad Seigmund v. Bellsouth Telecommunications, LLC, et al
M2014-00234-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Vanessa Jackson

In December 2011, Chad Seigmund (“Employee”) was involved in a motor vehicle accident in the course of his employment. His employer, Bellsouth Telecommunications, LLC (“Employer”) provided medical treatment but denied that Employee sustained permanent impairment or disability. Following a trial, the trial court found that Employee had sustained permanent disability and awarded Employee 16.5% permanent partial disability to the body as a whole. Employer has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the permanent disabilityfinding. 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. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Coffee County Workers Compensation Panel 12/30/14
Gary Collier v. McEvoy Funeral Home, Inc. et al.
W2014-00061-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

A funeral director sustained injuries to his shoulder and back while assisting with carrying a casket. His injury was accepted as compensable. Within a few days, he submitted a letter of resignation to his employer. After recovering from his injuries, he filed this action seeking permanent disability benefits. He also sought reconsideration of a previous settlement pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-241(d). His employer asserted that the employee was not entitled to reconsideration of the earlier settlement and that any award for his later injury was subject to the one and one-half times impairment cap because of his voluntary resignation. The trial court found that the employee did not voluntarily resign, granted the petition for reconsideration, and awarded benefits for the second injury in excess of the cap. 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 affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Carroll County Workers Compensation Panel 12/29/14
John Moran v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al
M2014-00039-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Wallace

An employee injured his left shoulder in 2005. He returned to work for his employer and settled his workers’ compensation claim. In 2011, he had recurrent symptoms in the shoulder. Eventually, hemade a claimfor benefits, alleging thathehad sustained a new injury. His employer contended that his symptoms were caused by the earlier injury and that he was entitled only to medical care under the previous settlement.  The trial court found that the employee had sustained a new injury and awarded permanent partialand temporary total disability benefits. Theemployerhas appealed. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, the appeal has been referred to the SpecialWorkers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report offindings of fact and conclusions of law.  We affirm the judgment.

Cheatham County Workers Compensation Panel 12/26/14
James Patterson v. Prime Package & Label Co., LLC
M2013-01527-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This workers’ compensation appeal involves the application of the recently enacted pain management provisions of Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-204(j) (2014). An employee who sustained a work-related injury in 2007 settled his workers’ compensation claim with his employer in 2010. The settlement enabled the employee to continue receiving pain management treatment from a physician in Lebanon, Tennessee. The employee moved to Vonore, Tennessee in late 2012. Because his pain-management physician was now 162 miles away, the employee requested his former employer to provide a new panel of pain management physicians closer to his new residence. The employer declined, citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-204(j)(2)(A) that exempts pain-management physicians who live within 175 miles of the employee from the general statutory “community” residence requirement. The employee filed a motion in the Circuit Court for Rutherford County to compel the employer to provide a new doctor. The trial court held that the new 175-mile rule did not apply to the employee’s claim and ordered the employer to provide a new panel of pain management physicians. The employer has appealed to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel in accordance with Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 51. We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 12/22/14
Toney R. Gonzales v. J.W. Carell Enterprises, LLC d/b/a Careall Home Care Services-Knoxville/McMinnville
E2013-02072-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale Workman

In this workers’ compensation action, the employee alleged that he suffered a compensable injury to his lower back. The trial court ruled for the employer, finding that the employee was not a credible witness and had failed to carry his burden of proof. The employee appealed 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. At issue in this appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence records from the employee’s Social Security Disability proceedings and whether the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s decision that the employee failed to sustain his burden of proof. After a careful review, we find no error and affirm the trial court’s decision.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 12/17/14
Kevin Hudson v. Kroger Limited Partnership I
W2013-02181-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood
Trial Court Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin

An employee injured his head, neck, and back in a tractor-trailer accident while working for his employer. The employee was ultimately diagnosed with a nerve-entrapment condition, which the employer denied was caused by the accident. The trial court found in the employee’s favor and awarded benefits. The employer appeals asserting that the trial court erred in excluding the expert testimony of an accident reconstruction engineer on the issue of causation. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the trial court erred by excluding portions of the expert’s testimony. Despite the error, the judgment of the trial court is supported by a preponderance of the evidence and is affirmed.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 11/24/14
Thomas L. Keller v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corporation
W2013-02529-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Donald P. Harris
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha B. Brasfield

An employee sustained a work-related injury to his back and leg and returned to work but eventually resigned due to his continued back and leg pain. The trial court found that the employee established a compensable injury, did not have a meaningful return to work, and awarded sixty-eight percent permanent partial disability benefits. The employer appealed, alleging that the trial court erred in finding that the employee did not have a meaningful return to work and in awarding excessive benefits. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Hardeman County Workers Compensation Panel 11/21/14
C. Douglas Jones v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
E2013-02451-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

The employee alleged that he sustained a compensable back injury when a stool on which he was sitting collapsed, causing him to fall to the ground. His treating physician opined that he sustained permanent impairment as a result of the incident. Two evaluating doctors opined that his symptoms were related to a prior motor vehicle accident. The employee had not informed the treating physician of the prior motor vehicle accident nor of his prior history of back pain. The trial court found that he did not suffer a compensable injury. 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 affirm the judgment.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 11/20/14
Teresa G. Moore v. Knox County Government, et al.
E2013-01552-SC-WC-R3
Authoring Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood
Trial Court Judge: Judge Harold Wimberly

The employee sustained a compensable shoulder injury when she fell from a ladder while removing Christmas decorations. The trial court determined that the employee had sustained a 7% anatomical impairment, awarded her 21% permanent partial disability (“PPD”) benefits, and denied her claim for temporary disability benefits. The employer has appealed, asserting that the trial court erred by awarding benefits in excess of one and one-half times the anatomical impairment. The employee contends that the trial court erred by denying her temporary disability claim. 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 trial court erred by awarding PPD benefits in excess of one and one-half times the impairment. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 11/12/14