TRUCK DRIVERS PHYSICAL STRESS AND GRADUAL DETERIORATION VERDICT IS REVERSED A SECOND TIME
KGS Steel, Inc. v. Donald McInish:
On June 26, 2009, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals considered the trial court’s finding of medical causation for a second time. In the case, the employee claimed to have sustained a cumulative physical stress injury to his neck and shoulders while employed as a truck driver by KGS Steel, Inc. The first time, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court after reweighing the evidence presented at trial and determining that the employee’s case did not satisfy the clear and convincing proof standard of evidence, which is required in order to prevail in a workers’ compensation claim based on an injury caused by cumulative physical stress. In its ruling, the Court of Civil Appeals also implied that proof of medical causation is solely dependent upon the presence of expert medical testimony. However, the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed and remanded the Court of Civil Appeals with regard to reweighing evidence and establishing medical causation. The Supreme Court stated that an appellate court cannot reweigh evidence presented to the trial court. Rather, the appellate court’s role is to determine whether the trial court’s findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence with due regard to, and respect for, the appropriate level of evidentiary proof required, which in this case is clear and convincing proof. The Supreme Court also stated that "totality of the evidence" standard applies to workers’ compensation cases, which means that lay and expert, as well as circumstantial evidence, must be considered.
In its second opinion, the Court of Civil Appeals still reversed the trial court’s finding of medical causation; however, the Court incorporated the instructions from the Supreme Court. After reviewing all circumstantial evidence, lay testimony, and expert testimony, the Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the trial court could not have reasonably concluded with firm conviction that the employee’s job duties at KGS Steel, Inc. caused or contributed to the neck and shoulder injuries claimed by the employee.
It should be noted that Judge Pittman dissented on the grounds that he agreed with the trial court’s conclusion.