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City of Jackson v. Sandifer

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 22, 2013

CITY OF JACKSON, Mississippi, Appellant
v.
Sam SANDIFER, Appellee.

Page 682

Lara E. Gill, Ridgeland, Pieter John Teeuwissen, attorneys for appellant.

Timothy W. Porter, Ridgeland, Patrick Malouf, John Timothy Givens, Jackson, Robert Allen Smith Jr., attorneys for appellee.

Before GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES and JAMES, JJ.

BARNES, J.

¶ 1. The City of Jackson (City) appeals the order of the Circuit Court of Hinds County, which affirmed the award of permanent partial workers' compensation benefits to Sam Sandifer by the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission). Sandifer was a long-time

Page 683

firefighter for the City and was diagnosed with respiratory disease indicative of asbestosis. The administrative judge (AJ) and the Commission found substantial evidence linking Sandifer's illness with his employment.

¶ 2. On appeal, the City argues that Sandifer failed to show a direct causal connection between his employment as a firefighter and his illness. Further, the City claims the statute of limitations had expired, barring any award of benefits to Sandifer. Finding no error with the Commission's decision, however, we affirm.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 3. Sandifer was employed by the Jackson Fire Department (JFD) from 1985 until 2007— twenty-two years. On February 20, 2007, Sandifer's pulmonologist, Dr. John Studdard, found his lung problems indicative of " asbestos-related pulmonary parenchymal and pleural disease— asbestosis" related to his employment as a firefighter. Sandifer was forty-three years old. His last day of " active employment" was July 23, 2006.[1] In November 2007, Sandifer filed a petition to controvert for workers' compensation benefits. Sandifer's employment and medical history were established as follows.

¶ 4. After graduating from high school in 1982, Sandifer worked as a meat cutter in a grocery store from 1983 until 1985, when he started working with the JFD. Sandifer also worked part-time as an outdoor plumber, digging ditches and installing PVC pipe for new residential construction for two months during the summers of 2004 and 2005. Additionally, he worked in 2005 for two months at a sawmill, where he hauled wood outside the mill, but he had to quit due to breathing problems. Sandifer denied coming into contact with asbestos during either of these part-time jobs.

¶ 5. As a Jackson firefighter, Sandifer held many positions, and eventually rose to the rank of captain. He claimed significant exposure to asbestos both at his workplace and when fighting fires. Over Sandifer's career, he was assigned and worked at nearly every JFD station but one. He testified that many of these fire stations contained asbestos ceiling and floor tiles that were often broken or torn. Also, the pipes in many stations were wrapped in asbestos insulation. He stated many of the stations had to be temporarily closed for the removal of asbestos. Part of his duties at these stations involved sweeping the floors and picking up asbestos floor tiles, which produced asbestos dust.

¶ 6. Additionally, Sandifer claimed exposure to asbestos while fighting numerous fires in older commercial buildings and older residential neighborhoods. He stated many older homes were constructed with asbestos siding, shingles, and insulation. He would often have to tear the asbestos off of the walls and pipes when extinguishing the fires. Even though he wore a mask and breathing apparatus while fighting fires, he claimed that dust and smoke still entered the mask.

¶ 7. Sandifer had two hospital-emergency-room visits for smoke inhalation while fighting fires— in August 2002 and in July 2006. Dr. Studdard was the pulmonologist when Sandifer went to the emergency room in 2002, and Sandifer has continued to be under his care. In 2002, Dr. Studdard stated that Sandifer's pulmonary

Page 684

function was " indicative of moderate to severe restrictive lung disease," but the cause of the restriction was " unclear." Further, a CT ...


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