Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 08/28/2016
Format: 08/28/2016
Memphis Light Gas and Water v. Chester Evans
W2015-01541-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

The appellant employee in this workers' compensation appeal worked for a municipal public utility as work crew leader. He filed suit against employer, alleging that he had sustained a gradual aggravation of pre-existing arthritis in his right knee, caused by the physical demands of his job. The employer denied the claim. The trial court found that the employee had not sustained his burden of proof that the aggravation was primarily caused by his work activities, as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-102(12) (Supp. 2011). Judgment was entered in favor of the employer, and the employee appealed. The appeal was referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 08/19/16
Anniedene Waters V. General Motors, LLC
M2015-01429-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Paticia J. Cottrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella Hargrove

An employee sought workers’ compensation benefits, alleging the advancement of the osteoarthritis in her right knee was primarily caused by her employment, and therefore, her employer was liable for medical treatment and disability benefits. The employer denied that the employee sustained a compensable work-related injury under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-102(12)(C)(ii) (Supp. 2011), because the pre-existing osteoarthritis did not arise “primarily out of and in the course and scope of employment.” The trial court concluded that the employee sustained a compensable injury and awarded temporary and permanent partial disability benefits. The employer has appealed, challenging the trial court’s application of Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-102(12)(C)(ii). 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.

Maury County Workers Compensation Panel 08/19/16
Vicki Russell v. Dana Corporation
M2015-00800-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

In 1994, the employee received workers’ compensation benefits and future medical benefits for a work-related cervical spine injury and left carpal tunnel syndrome she sustained in 1991. The year after the employee received workers’ compensation benefits, the physician treating her work-related injury referred the employee to her primary care physician for continued treatment of her work injury. From 1995 to the present, the employee’s primary care physician has treated her work-related injury and other medical problems unrelated to her work. In 2010, the employee underwent two surgeries on her left shoulder and left knee unrelated to her work injuries. In June 2013, the employer filed a motion seeking an independent medical evaluation, which the trial court granted. After receiving the report from the evaluation, the employer filed motions seeking to “de-authorize,” or remove the employee’s treating physician and permission to provide a panel of three pain management physicians for the employee’s future medical treatment. The trial court denied the motions. The employer has appealed from that order. 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 reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for proceedings consistent with this decision.

Smith County Workers Compensation Panel 08/01/16
John E. Houston v. Conagra Foods Packaged Foods LLC
W2015-01257-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd
Trial Court Judge: Judge George R. Ellis

John E. Houston (“Employee”) alleged he sustained a compensable injury to his back in June 2013. He initially sought medical treatment through his health insurer and told his doctors his injury occurred in the course of his employment at Conagra (“Employer”). When Employee submitted a claim for short-term disability benefits and FMLA leave through Employer, however, he stated his condition was not related to his employment. He ultimately had back surgery on August 22, 2013. On September 13, 2013, Employee gave notice of what he alleged to be a work-related injury to Employer by means of a letter from counsel. Employer denied the claim, based in part on the lack of timely notice. The trial court found Employee’s application for short-term disability benefits provided notice that Employer had an injured employee, and, had Employer conducted an investigation at that time, it would have become aware the injury was work related. The court determined notice, therefore, was timely. It awarded permanent partial disability benefits and entered judgment accordingly. Employer has appealed from that judgment. 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.

Gibson County Workers Compensation Panel 06/30/16
Craig Brueckheimer v. Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania et al.
M2015-01468-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

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 pain management case, the employee received pain management treatment for more than ten years for a work-related injury pursuant to a judgment entered in November 2003. In April 2015, the employee’s treating physician advised him that he was retiring and moving to Florida, prompting the employee to contact his employer’s insurance carrier, who provided him with a panel of pain specialists two days later. The treating physician then made a referral to a different clinic to continue the employee’s treatment, so the employee declined to select a doctor from the panel while the insurance carrier declined to authorize the referred clinic. The employee filed a motion in the Circuit Court for Giles County, seeking to compel the insurance carrier to authorize treatment by the clinic. The trial court granted the motion and awarded attorney’s fees and travel expenses for a trip to Florida by the employee to see his previous physician. The insurance carrier has appealed, asserting that the trial court erred by granting the employee’s motion. We reverse in part and affirm in part the judgment of the trial court.

Giles County Workers Compensation Panel 06/29/16
Damon Hawks v. Lisa Christian, et al.
M2015-02200-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Patricia J. Cottrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

In this workers’ compensation case, the employee sustained an injury in the course of his employment when he fell off a roof. His employer denied the employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-110 because the employee failed to use a required safety appliance. The trial court found that the employee provided a valid excuse for failing to wear the required equipment 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. We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Montgomery County Workers Compensation Panel 06/20/16
Demetrius D. Walton v. Colonial Freight Systems, Inc.
E2015-00088-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

The workers' compensation claimant was an independent contractor for the defendant, a common carrier engaged in interstate commerce. The claimant and the defendant agreed that the defendant would provide workers' compensation coverage to the claimant based on Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-106(1)(B) (2012). The claimant was injured while driving a tractor trailer for the defendant. The claimant's claim for benefits was denied, and he sued for workers' compensation benefits. The defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that the claimant's employment agreement was void because of alleged material misrepresentations made by the claimant regarding his physical condition during his pre-employment medical examination. The trial court granted the defendant's motion, based on its finding that the claim was barred by claimant's pre-employment material misrepresentations and Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-103 (2012). 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 under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We vacate the grant of summary judgment and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 05/06/16
Cynthia Elliott v. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
W2015-01752-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge James F. Russell
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Michael Maloan

Cynthia Elliott (“Employee”) alleged that she sustained a compensable aggravation of her preexisting knee arthritis because of a fall that occurred in the course of her employment at Goodyear (“Employer”). Employer provided medical care for several months through its workers' compensation carrier but then denied the claim for right knee total replacement surgery as well as her claim for disability benefits, based on the opinion of the treating physician that the fall did not aggravate or advance the preexisting condition. Employee then had knee replacement surgery through her group healthcare insurance. The trial court received deposition testimony from three orthopaedic surgeons and medical records from several other doctors. It ruled that the fall at work had aggravated Employee's arthritis and awarded benefits. Employer has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the trial court's finding of compensability. 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.

Weakley County Workers Compensation Panel 04/18/16
Gene Stamps Ex Rel. Estate of Marilyn Sue Stamps, et al v. Trinity Marine Productions, Inc., et al.
M2015-00373-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

A widow filed suit seeking workers’ compensation death benefits for herself and her son, the stepson of the deceased worker.  She alleged that her husband’s death was caused by a lung disease contracted in the course of his employment.  The employer denied liability.  While the action was pending, the widow died.  An amended complaint was filed by her estate and her son.  The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, holding that neither the estate nor the son had standing to sue for benefits.  The estate and son have 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.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 03/22/16
The Estate of James Alfred Jenkins v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
W2014-02303-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. MIchael Maloan

Two years after he left work for the employer, an employee alleged that he sustained a compensable hearing loss. He died prior to filing suit. His estate subsequently filed this action. The employer denied that the condition was work-related and also asserted that the claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court found for the estate and awarded benefits. The employer has appealed, and 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 action was barred by the statute of limitations and reverse the judgment.

Obion County Workers Compensation Panel 03/15/16
Clyde E. Cowan v. Knox County, Tennessee
E2015-00405-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

Employee suffered a work-related accidental injury to his back on April 27, 2001; he reported the injury, received conservative treatment, and returned to work without restriction in 2001. In 2011, his pain recurred, and he filed a second injury report. Employer denied Employee's claim for workers' compensation benefits. The trial court found Employee's claim timely and his injury compensable. The trial court awarded Employee temporary total disability benefits for the six-week period following his August 17, 2011 lumbar surgery and permanent partial disability benefits of thirty percent to the body as a whole. Employer appeals. 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.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 02/24/16
Cecilia Thompson v. Kroger Limited Partnership I
W2015-00075-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles C. McGinley

An employee sustained a compensable injury to her shoulder. She was able to return to work in a transitional modified job and settled her claim within the one and one-half times impairment cap. Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-241(d)(1)(A). Her employer offered her a permanent job with accommodations for her medical restrictions. The employee did not accept the position and was terminated. She sought reconsideration of her settlement. The trial court found that the employer had acted reasonably and that the employee had a meaningful return to work. The trial court, therefore, declined to award additional benefits. 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.

Hardin County Workers Compensation Panel 02/01/16
William Ireton v. Horizon Mental Health Management LLC
E2015-00296-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant
The trial court denied the employee’s claim for benefits for his psychological injuries, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), finding that the injuries were not compensable because they did not arise out of the employee’s employment with the employer. Specifically, the trial court applied an objective standard and determined that the stress which the employee claimed as the cause of his depression and PTSD was not unusual. The employee 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 the judgment.
 
McMinn County Workers Compensation Panel 01/19/16
Bob A. LaPradd v. Nissan North America, Inc., et al
M2014-01722-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

The employee sustained a back injury in the course of his work. His employer provided medical treatment for the injury, and the employee appeared to recover. He subsequently developed more severe symptoms and the employer denied additional treatment. The employee eventually had a fusion of three vertebrae in the lower back. The trial court found that the injury was compensable and awarded permanent total disability benefits. It found that the Second Injury Fund was not liable for any portion of the award. The court declined to award the employer a set-off for benefits paid by an employer-funded disability plan. The employer has appealed, and the employee raises additional issues on appeal. 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 award of permanent total disability benefits and the decision not to not assign liability to the Second Injury Fund. We reverse the denial of the set-off to the employer. We deny relief as to the issues raised by the employee. 

Coffee County Workers Compensation Panel 01/14/16
Johnny Braden v. M&W Transportation Co., Inc., et al.
M2015-00555-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

Johnny Braden (“Employee”) suffered a compensable injury to his right elbow in April 2005 while working for M&W Transportation (“Employer”). Within six months of returning to work, Employee began experiencing pain in his right shoulder and numbness in his hand. He received treatment over the next two years and eventually was assigned a seven percent (7%) partial permanent disability rating. Three different insurance companies covered Employer during the time of Employee’s treatment. Each insurer disclaimed liability for the eventual disability. The trial court found the disability to be a direct and natural consequence of the original injury and assigned liability to the first insurer. The insurer appealed, asserting that liability for the shoulder and hand conditions should be assigned to the subsequent insurers based on the “last day worked rule.” 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.
 

Williamson County Workers Compensation Panel 12/30/15
Mary Hovatter v. JDAK, LLC, et al.
M2015-01015-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

An employee developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Her employer provided medical treatment until the authorized treating physician opined the condition did not arise primarily from her work. The employer then denied the claim. At trial, the employee presented the testimony of an evaluating physician who opined her work was the primary cause of the condition. The trial court found the employee had successfully rebutted the opinion of the authorized treating physician, as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-102(12)(C)(ii). It further found the condition arose primarily from her employment, as required by section 50-6-102(12)(A)(ii) and awarded benefits. The employer appeals. 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.

Robertson County Workers Compensation Panel 12/30/15
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