In Alabama, Requirement to Liberally Construe Workers’ Compensation Act does not apply to Assignment of Weight to Evidence
On July 21, 2017, The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion in Laura Wyatt v. Baptist Health System, Inc. In Wyatt, the employee was a patient-care tech that experienced a sharp pain in her back when she was lifting and twisting. The pain was followed by a burning sensation and pain down into her legs and toes. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and continues to experience weakness in her legs, trouble with walking and balance, and has issues with her bladder and bowels.
The employee filed a workers’ compensation lawsuit in Jefferson County and it subsequently transferred to Shelby County upon motion of the employer.
At trial, the testimony of three doctors was received into evidence. Dr. Meador, who examined the employee, was of the opinion that the employee likely impinged an artery in her lower back during the act of lifting and twisting which resulted in a spinal cord stroke which, in turn, lead to her condition. Drs. Kirschberg and Counce conducted record reviews and offered testimony that rebutted the opinions of Dr. Meador. Dr. Kirschberg testified that a twisting motion would not cause the employee’s condition. Dr. Counce, who testified live in court, opined that the employee’s condition was not caused by trauma of by work activities. She further testified that the employee did not suffer from an impingement. Rather, it was her opinion that the condition and symptoms were more likely related to a severe vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Based on the evidence at trial, the trial judge was of the opinion that the testimony of Drs. Kirschberg and Counce was more well-reasoned, medically sound, and persuasive. As such, judgment was rendered in favor of the employer. The employee timely appealed the decision.
Among the reasons for appeal, the employee noted that the trial court erred in failing to resolve reasonable doubts in the evidence in favor of the employee. The Court of Civil Appeals noted that the requirement of liberally construing the construction of the Workers’ Compensation Act to effectuate its beneficent purposes had nothing to do with the assignment of weight to the evidence. Rather, judges in workers’ compensation matters should consider the evidence and assign weight as they would in any other civil matter. Since the trial judge obviously assigned much more weight to the testimony of Drs. Kirschberg and Counce, it was clear that substantial evidence supported the judge’s ruling in favor of the employer. As such, the judgment was affirmed.
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.