MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, SELF-INSURED/MISSISSIPPI BUREAU OF NARCOTICS, APPELLANT
ELISHA ADCOX, APPELLEE
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/04/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JEFF WEILL SR. TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED THE DECISION OF THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION.
FOR APPELLANT: JOSEPH T. WILKINS III.
FOR APPELLEE: JOHN HUNTER STEVENS.
BEFORE IRVING, P.J., ROBERTS AND JAMES, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WORKERS' COMPENSATION
¶1. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety/Bureau of Narcotics (MBN) appeals the Hinds County Circuit Court's affirmance of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission's decision, which awarded benefits to Elisha Adcox for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from her duties on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. MBN raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the circuit court erred in affirming the Commission's finding that Adcox's Katrina experience caused her to suffer PTSD; and (2) whether the Commission erred in finding the medical testimony of Dr. Mark Webb unpersuasive.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶2. Adcox began working as a contract agent with MBN in 1989, and became a full-time agent in 1993. Her work with MBN involved undercover operations, the execution of search warrants, participation in drug raids, making arrests, and testifying in court.
¶3. Adcox was treated for two weeks at an out-of-state facility for PTSD after her partner was shot during a raid in 1990, after which she returned to full duty. Adcox has been treated for chronic migraine headaches by Dr. Ruth Fredericks since 2001. In April 2003, Adcox injured her neck in a motor-vehicle accident. In 2004, Adcox was hospitalized after inhaling chemicals during a raid on a methamphetamine lab. Adcox testified that she did not miss any work during the period between her treatment for the 2003 neck injury and her assignment to duty on the Gulf Coast related to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
¶4. In August 2005, Adcox and other agents were sent to the Mississippi Gulf
Coast to assist in Katrina relief efforts. Adcox arrived on the Coast the Saturday prior to Katrina's landfall to assist local law enforcement with traffic control during the evacuation. Adcox and the other agents spent the duration of the storm at Camp Shelby outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi, returning to Gulfport, Mississippi, the morning after Katrina's landfall. According to Adcox, her duties included assisting local law enforcement in providing security against looters, searching for and rescuing survivors, and searching for and recovering bodies.
¶5. Adcox testified that in 2006, she began having panic attacks and flashbacks of death and bodies from her Katrina experience and guilt over having to refuse food and water to Katrina survivors. Dr. Fredericks, who treated Adcox for a headache condition, suggested that Adcox seek psychiatric care for her post-Katrina difficulties. On January 24, 2006, Adcox began treatment at Region 8 Mental Health Center. There, Adcox was treated by Nina Williams, a licensed therapist, William Johnson, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and Dr. Stanley Russell, a psychiatrist. Initially, Adcox was treated primarily by Williams, with regular oversight and evaluation by Dr. Russell. In April 2008, Johnson took over Dr. Russell's care responsibilities in collaboration with Dr. Paul McGinnis, a psychiatrist. Following her initial visit, Adcox was diagnosed with PTSD by both Williams and Dr. Russell.
¶6. Adcox first filed a petition to controvert on June 1, 2006, alleging that, as of February 2005, her work had aggravated injuries to her head and neck originally incurred in a motor-vehicle accident on April 9, 2003. This claim was docketed as Claim J-5177. MBN answered with a denial.
¶7. Adcox then filed a petition to controvert on November 9, 2006, alleging a " continuing injury as of August 30, 2005, resulting from her service on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." This claim was docketed as Claim J-6249. MBN again answered with a denial. On January 25, 2007, Adcox filed an amended petition to controvert in which she expanded her description of her alleged injury of August 30, 2005, as follows: " Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder. Neck progressively getting worse. Recently became disabling. Especially in a [m]eth [l]ab bust . . . . and after working in Katrina aftermath." Adcox erroneously cited February 2004 as the date of the " meth lab bust." MBN answered with another denial.
¶8. On October 5, 2007, Adcox filed another amended petition to controvert in Claim J-6249, alleging that her Katrina duty had aggravated the neck injury from the March 9, 2003 motor-vehicle accident and caused her to suffer PTSD.
¶9. On March 11, 2008, MBN filed a motion to dismiss Claim J-5177, arguing that no injury had occurred in February 2005 and asserting that Adcox had confused her dates and must have intended to refer to the chemical-exposer incident that occurred during a February 5, 2004 drug bust for which no claim had been filed. MBN consulted Dr. Webb for a second opinion. Dr. Webb examined Adcox on January 7, 2009. Dr. Webb found that Adcox did not suffer from PTSD.
¶10. A hearing before an administrative judge (AJ) was set. Prior to the hearing, the parties agreed to the following stipulations: that Claim J-5177 would be voluntarily dismissed; that if Claim J-6249 was found to be compensable, Adcox would be entitled to the maximum amount of ...