Alabama Employers will not be Guessed into Liability for Workers' Compensation Benefits
On May 16, 2014, the Alabama Court of Appeals released its opinion in Jesse Stutts, Inc. v. William Hughey overruling a trial court’s finding that the employee’s new injury was a direct and natural result of his prior compensable injury. In Alabama, if an employee’s injury is found to be the direct and natural result of a previous compensable workers’ compensation injury, then the previous employer may be responsible for benefits resulting from the new injury, even if it the injury did not occur while working for the employer. However, when it cannot be shown that the first injury was the direct cause of the second injury, then the employee cannot recover additional compensation benefits for the new injury from the original employer.
Hughey, the employee in the case at hand, injured his back while working for Jesse Stutts, Inc., in 2002, and Stutts remained responsible for medical treatment for that injury. In 2011, while working for Cracker Barrel, Hughey claimed that he fell and re-injured his back due to his leg giving out. He also claimed that his leg weakness was related to his 2002 accident and that he had fallen numerous times as a result of the weakness. From the very beginning, Hughey wanted Stutts to pay for the treatment he would need for this new injury. For reasons unknown, he never sought benefits from Cracker Barrel.
At trial, the medical evidence made no clear connection between Hughey’s legs giving out and his 2002 injury. Although it was suggested that the 2002 injury could result in weakness, there was no medical evidence directly connecting Hughey’s new injury to his 2002 accident. However, despite the evidence, the trial court found that Hughey’s 2011 fall was the direct and natural result of his 2002 injury.
On Appeal, Stutts argued that Hughey had not presented substantial evidence to support the trial court’s decision, and the Court of Appeals agreed. It was noted that there was evidence suggesting that Hughey’s legs were weak and that they would give out on him at times, causing him to fall. However, the Court also noted there was no medical evidence supporting Hughey’s contention that the weakness was the cause of his new injury. In addition, the Court pointed out that Hughey had sustained other falls and incidents which were just as likely to have caused Hughey’s condition.
The Court of Appeals found that the trial court’s determination that Hughey’s fall was the result of his 2002 injury was speculation and not supported by the evidence, and therefore, overruled the trial court’s decision.
About the Author
This post was written by Trey Cotney, Esq. of Fish Nelson LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation matters. Fish Nelson is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Network (NWCDN). If you have any questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or any firm member at 205-332-3430.