Workers Compensation Panel Opinions

Format: 05/24/2016
Format: 05/24/2016
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
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