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Miller v. Johnson Controls

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 6, 2014

JO ANN MILLER, APPELLANT
v.
JOHNSON CONTROLS AND ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEES

Page 249

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/30/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. WILLIAM E. CHAPMAN III. TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED THE DECISION OF THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION.

FOR APPELLANT: C. RAY SCALES JR., HENRY P. PATE III.

FOR APPELLEES: MARJORIE T. O'DONNELL.

BEFORE IRVING, P.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, MAXWELL AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 250

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WORKERS' COMPENSATION

FAIR, J.

¶1. Jo Ann Miller suffered from intense hip and back pain after working on an assembly line at Johnson Controls. She was ultimately diagnosed with spondylosis, which required multiple surgeries over the course of several years.

¶2. Miller's attending physicians concluded that her work at Johnson Controls had aggravated or accelerated the worsening of her back condition until it became disabling. The Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission disagreed, relying on an employer's medical examination. But that examination was conducted before the cause of Miller's back pain was known. We conclude that, when viewed in context, the employer's examination does not contradict the findings of Miller's attending physicians. The decision of the Commission as to Miller's back injury is otherwise without factual support in the record and therefore must be reversed. We remand for a determination of the extent of Miller's disability and a calculation of benefits.

FACTS

¶3. Miller began her employment at Johnson Controls on July 7, 2003. At that time she was forty-three years of age. Miller initially steamed car seats, but after about six weeks she began working as a material handler, keeping the assembly line stocked with materials. After four weeks of that physically demanding work, she began feeling pain and tingling in her legs, and she had difficulty rising from a seat. Miller testified that on December 15, 2003, after working a twelve-hour shift, she began feeling intense pain in her back and hips. The pain continued through the night, and the next morning she went to an emergency room for treatment.

¶4. There was a dispute about whether Miller reported the December 2003 injury to her employer. It was uncontested, however, that she pursued short-term disability benefits and that such benefits were not supposed to be claimed in the case of workplace injuries. Miller eventually made a workers' compensation claim for the December 2003 injury, which was denied, and she has not appealed that decision.

Medical History

¶5. After the 2003 injury, Miller was attended by Dr. Jacob Mathis, a neurosurgeon. Miller underwent an MRI scan that, in Dr. Mathis's opinion, showed that her " hips [were] normal" but " indicate[d] a hypertrophied right L4/5 facet which is encroaching upon the L4/5 foramen and causing some narrowing and stenosis." Dr. Mathis alternatively described the MRI scan as " revealing significant degeneration and bulges of both the L4/5 and L5/S1 disc cartilages." Dr. Mathis ordered a lumbar discogram to " determine the integrity of the disc cartilages at L3/4, L4/5, and L5/S1." The result was " normal," in that " there was no evidence of any concordant pain on injection of her disc cartilages." Dr. Mathis also reviewed a " contrast CT scan" that was performed at the same time as the discogram; he also described its results as normal. Dr. Mathis concluded that Miller would not require surgery. He referred her to a chiropractor and suggested continuing pain treatment.

¶6. Miller's various treatments were described as conservative, and in Dr. Mathis's opinion, they produced excellent results. By July 1, 2004, Miller was " comfortable," " no longer [had] any tenderness of her sacroiliac [SI] joints," and had a " normal neurological examination." Dr.

Page 251

Mathis cleared Miller to return to work on July 6, 2004, and she did.

¶7. Back at Johnson Controls, Miller was supposed to be gradually reintroduced to a full day of manual labor. But shortly after she returned, apparently through an accident or miscommunication, Miller ended up working full time carrying car seats back and forth on the assembly line. She stated that she would have to lift, carry, and manipulate bench seats that weighed sixty pounds. Miller did this until July 14, when she became so overwhelmed with pain that she required assistance to rise from a toilet seat in the restroom at work. Miller reported this injury to Johnson Controls. She also complained of pain in her left hand and wrist, though it was disputed whether she immediately reported it as a workplace injury.

¶8. Miller returned to Dr. Mathis on July 15, where he concluded that Miller was again temporarily totally disabled and instructed her not to return to work. Miller again undertook what were described as conservative treatments - pain medicine, injections, and physical therapy. Dr. Mathis also noted that Miller was suffering from " very painful carpal tunnel syndrome of the left hand." In 2001, Miller had surgery on her right hand for carpal tunnel syndrome; at that time her left hand had " mild to moderate" carpal tunnel syndrome. After the 2004 injury, Dr. Mathis observed that Miller's left-hand carpal tunnel syndrome had worsened. Later that year, Miller underwent a ...


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