A truck driver for a casket company was driving to Texas and stopped at a rest stop. It was raining, and when he attempted to get back into the truck, his right foot slipped off the step and he fell. He felt immediate, severe pain in his left knee, which swelled significantly the next morning. He also immediately felt pain in both shoulders, although the pain in his knee and left shoulder was worse than the pain in his right shoulder. He continued the trip and received permission from his superiors to seek medical treatment the next day.
Following his return home, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed him with a torn tendon in his knee and a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. Two months after the injury, he had surgery on his knee. After surgery, the driver had to use crutches, which caused the pain in both of his shoulders to intensify. At a follow-up visit with the surgeon, the driver complained of pain in his right shoulder. The surgeon believed that the use of crutches aggravated the driver's shoulder problems, explaining that the shoulders are not designed to be weight-bearing joints. Testing revealed a torn rotator cuff in the driver's right shoulder.
The driver sought workers' compensation benefits for his knee and both shoulders. The company agreed that the knee and left shoulder injuries were compensable but disputed that the right shoulder injury was work-related. The trial court found that the driver was "very credible" and that he was entitled to benefits for his knee and both shoulders. The company appealed.
Was the trial court correct in finding the driver's right shoulder was compensable?
A. No. The driver did not inform his health care provider of pain in his right shoulder until after his knee surgery.
B. Yes. The surgeon opined that the driver's use of crutches after his knee surgery aggravated his shoulder problem.
C. No. A court cannot properly award benefits based on medical testimony by a single physician that the employment was the cause of an employee's injury.
How the court ruled: B. In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the driver's right shoulder injury was compensable. Keele v. Batesville Casket Co., Inc. et al., No. M2012-00034-WC-R3-CV (Tenn. 10/12/12, unpublished).
The court pointed out that the surgeon testified that the shoulders are not designed to be weight-bearing joints. The court said it was logical for the driver to complain of pain at the time that he did, especially since the pain in his knee and left shoulder were considerably worse than the pain in his right shoulder. Further, he sustained a torn rotator cuff in both shoulders.
A is incorrect. The driver reported that he told doctors in Texas that both shoulders were hurting, but "the left one was a lot worse."
C is incorrect. The court said that a court can award benefits based upon medical testimony that the employment could have been the cause of the employee's injury when there is also law testimony supporting an inference of causation. The court pointed out that no medical evidence contradicted the surgeon's opinion of causation.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
January 14, 2013
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