TRIAL COURT REVERSED ON ORDER FOR PANEL OF FOUR BUT AFFIRMED ON NOTICE AND CAUSATION ISSUES
Equity Group – Alabama Division d/b/a Keystone Foods v. Rodney DeWayne Harris:
On June 4, 2010, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released this opinion wherein it affirmed the Trial Court’s finding of notice and causation but reversed the Court’s decision to require the employer to provide a panel of four. In addition, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the employer’s argument that past, present, and future medical benefits are not owed when the 5 day notice requirement is not satisfied and, instead, interpreted the applicable Code provision to state only that the medical benefits incurred prior to actual notice being given are not owed.
Interestingly, the evidence at trial revealed that the employee was allegedly injured on a Friday just 15 minutes before he was to leave for a week long vacation. It was undisputed that he provided no notice to his employer at that time. The employee did not seek medical attention until the following Monday. In the medical records it stated that the employee was injured the day before (2 days after alleged accident). The employee returned to the same doctors the following Sunday because he fell due to alleged numbness in his leg that he attributed to his original injury. No work accident was mentioned in the records from either visit and the doctors did not recall the employee stating that his injuries were work related. Although the employee’s wife testified that she notified the employer the next day about the alleged work accident, the employer’s witnesses all testified this was simply not the case.
The employee next went to a neurosurgeon of his own choosing. In the neurosurgeon’s records, it was noted that the employee did not relate a job injury but rather felt his back pop when he got out of bed after a vacation. The neurosurgeon further testified that the employee told him that he was not injured at work. Of course, the employee disputed the good doctor’s testimony.
Approximately five weeks after the alleged accident, the employee filed a disability claim with his union. It was denied and he was at that time told he needed to file a workers’ compensation claim. Although the employee was subsequently issued a workers’ compensation prescription drug card, the employer asserted that it was erroneously issued.
Despite the lack of any mention of a work injury in the medical records and the testimony of the employee’s own doctor, the Trial Judge found that notice was proper and that the employee proved both medical and legal causation. The Court of Appeals had no choice but to affirm since it could not re-weigh the evidence and the Judge obviously assigned more weight to the testimony of the wife. In addition, the issuance of the prescription drug card supported the employee’s case regarding notice. Further, an accident report completed by the employer two months after the alleged accident stated that the employee claimed a work injury. Finally, it was noted that the employee was deaf which may have caused some communication problems with his physicians despite the fact that his wife was always present.
The Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court’s order so far as it required the employer to furnish a panel of four. Although by allegedly denying the claim, the employer relinquished its right to choose the initial doctor, the employee is stuck with the doctor of his own choosing until such time that he becomes dissatisfied and requests a panel of four.
My Two Cents:
I think most employers and defense attorneys would feel fairly comfortable going to trial with a text book red flag injury and testimony from a doctor of the employee’s own choosing stating affirmatively that the employee admitted his injuries were not job related. You just never know what will happen if you proceed to trial. That is why most cases are resolved via settlement.