Alabama Courts Find Causation to be Clear and Convincing even when Doctor's Opinion was Not
On April 29, 2016, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion in Leesburg Yarn Mills, Inc v. Thomas Hood. In Hood, the trial judge found the claimed stenosing tenosynovitis (also known as “trigger finger”) to be compensable. The employer had denied the claim presumably based on the opinion of the authorized treating physician. The employee then proceeded to treat with his own physician, Dr. Glenn Wilson, and subsequently filed a Complaint for workers’ compensation benefits. In finding in favor of the employee, the trial judge retained jurisdiction to later determine the extent of disability. The employer appealed the decision.
On appeal, the employer asserted that the employee failed to meet his burden of proving both legal and medical causation by clear and convincing evidence. The employer argued that, in order for the employee to prove legal causation, it was necessary for him to establish that the repetitive nature of his job exposed him to his injury materially in excess of the risk to which people are exposed to in their everyday lives.
In affirming the trial judge’s decision, the Court of Civil Appeals noted that the employee had worked for the employer for twenty-three years. According to the employee, he was regularly exposed to repetitive pinching and grasping motions with his hands, multiple times per day. He also testified that he regularly moved 306 lb cans, three or four times per day, on wheels that were in poor condition.
The Court also addressed medical causation. At his deposition, Dr. Wilson testified that the employee’s exposure to job related overuse could be the cause of the trigger finger. Although the employer offered the testimony of Dr. Howard Miller, who stated that the employee’s condition was age related, he was not able to rule out the possibility that the job activities were a contributing cause.
Despite Dr. Wilson’s less than certain opinion as to medical causation, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment because, considering the medical opinion along with the employee’s opinion and other evidence, the trial judge could reasonably have been clearly convinced that the employee met his burden of proof.
About the Author
This blog submission was prepared by Mike Fish, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Fish by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him directly at 205-332-1448.