AR Court Awards Driver Benefits After Questionable Accident

18 Feb, 2020 Liz Carey

                               

Little Rock, AR (WorkersCompensation.com) – An Arkansas appellate court acknowledged that discrepancies between two accounts of an at-work accident do not disqualify a driver from workers’ compensation benefits.

In Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Brown, the court upheld the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission’s findings that an employee’s shoulder and cervical spine injuries were compensable.

In 2015, Dale Brown was employed as an appliance repair technician for Sears & Roebuck Co., when he was involved in a wreck while driving a company-provided automobile between jobs. Brown claimed the woman behind him rear-ended him going about 30 miles an hour. The other driver reported that Brown backed in to her while she was at a complete stop.

After the accident, Brown sought medical attention for pain in his neck. His family physician provided him with care and ordered an MRI on the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of his spine. Those tests showed bleeding around the spinal cord, court documents said. Additionally, Brown sought treatment for shoulder injuries that he said were a result of the accident.

In an independent medical evaluation, Dr. Rommell Childress, an orthopeadic surgeon, found that it was hard to determine whether or not the injuries were caused by the accident.

“It appears that the trauma of the MVA [motor vehicle accident] is the thing that has precipitated this,” Chidress said, according to court records. “However, without an MRI scan documenting the status of the spine prior to the injury, the question could not be answered definitively. However, with the history of injury that the patient had, the assumption is that the hemorrhage is the result of the trauma. I would depend on a Neuro Surgeon, to give [a] definitive answer regarding this, but the assumption is that with the trauma and the evidence of cord contusion and hemorrhage, the MVA is the source of this type of acute finding.”

Childress said Brown should continue to see a neurosurgeon and to stay off work until released by the neurosurgeon.

Other doctors disagreed on the cause of the injury, the court record showed, some of them saying there was a causal relationship and others saying the evidence did not support that.

In a benefits hearing, an administrative law judge found that Brown’s injuries to his cervical spine and his left shoulder were compensable, but that he had not provided proof that the injury to his lumbar region was related to the accident.

On appeal, the workers’ compensation commission upheld the administrative law judge’s ruling citing the differences in the version of events provided by Brown and the other driver.

“Although it was clear that either Claimant or the other driver was lying, there is no independent evidence in the record to suggest which driver was lying,” the court record showed. “Perhaps testimony, rather than an affidavit, of the other driver and testimony or even an affidavit, of the other witness would have helped flesh out this matter. Without more, we find the objective medical evidence supports Claimant’s version of the wreck and the opinions of Claimant’s treating physicians.”

The case was appealed. Attorneys for Sears argued that there was no substantial evidence that the other driver was going 30 miles an hour and that any medical diagnoses based on Brown’s version of events were speculative.

According to the appellate court, it was not its position to reverse the ruling if any reasonable person would have found the same.

“We will not reverse the Commission’s decision unless fair-minded persons with the same facts before them could not have reached the Commission’s conclusions,” the appeals court said in the court ruling. “The issue is not whether we might have reached a different result or whether the evidence would have supported a contrary finding… Contrary to appellants’ contention, this issue is one of credibility and weight to be accorded to the evidence. Our case law on this issue is clear. Credibility of witnesses is properly the province of the Commission, which had the benefit of the witnesses’ presence to judge their demeanor and determine the weight to be accorded their statements.”

The appellate court said it was not their job to reweigh the veracity of statements made by the other driver and their witness.

“In sum, appellants are requesting that we make contrary credibility determinations and reweigh the evidence in this case. Although our court may have made different findings, it is the Commission’s duty rather than ours to make credibility determinations, to weigh the evidence, and to resolve conflicts in medical opinions, evidence, and testimony,” the court said. “We hold that substantial evidence supports the Commission’s decision.”

 


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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