Case name: Guy v. B.C. Rogers Processors, Inc., et al., No. 2007-WC-01784-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 12/16/08).
Ruling: The Mississippi Court of Appeals determined that the claimant met her burden of proving that she suffered a work-related stroke. It reversed a lower court's decision denying benefits.
What it means: When the cause of an employee's stroke is in dispute, the opinion of a specialist does not necessarily trump that of a general practitioner. The general practitioner's affirmative opinion that the stroke is work-related is accepted as true if the specialist fails to contradict it or is equivocal about causation.
Summary: A production line supervisor claimed that she suffered a stroke causally related to hypertension and a stressful work environment. The physicians involved disagreed over whether the claimant had a stroke and if so, whether it resulted from workplace stressors. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the claimant's expert witness "definitively stated" that the claimant's stressful work environment caused her stroke. Because the employer's medical expert did not affirmatively state that work was not the cause of the stroke, the court concluded that the claimant met her burden of proof. It reversed the denial of benefits.
The claimant worked a full shift on a Thursday, had a vacation day on Friday, and began experiencing pain in her right arm and leg on Saturday. Her general physician, who had treated her for more than 40 years, testified that when he saw her at the emergency room, she had high blood pressure and decreased strength on her right side. Although test results did not reveal any abnormalities, the physician diagnosed a stroke because of the symptoms the claimant reported.
The Workers' Compensation Commission resolved the conflicting medical evidence concerning the cause of the stroke in the employer's favor because its medical expert was a specialist in neurology, whereas the claimant's expert was a general practitioner.
The court found that such reliance was erroneous because the neurologist could not state whether or not the claimant suffered a stroke. Further, he did not have an adequate understanding of the stress the claimant experienced at work. In contrast, the general practitioner had a long relationship with the claimant and affirmatively stated that the stroke was caused by her stressful work environment.
January 29, 2009
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