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Pruitt v. Howard Industries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 5, 2017

ROBERT PRUITT APPELLANT
v.
HOWARD INDUSTRIES, INC. APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/20/2016

         MISSISSIPPI WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: LINDSAY ERIN VARNADOE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: RICHARD LEWIS YODER JR. WILLIAM LAWRENCE THAMES

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., WILSON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. Robert Pruitt, a "final assembler" employed by Howard Industries, suffered a lower- back injury while on the job. Pruitt's injuries were treated, and he returned to work. Pruitt then filed a petition to controvert with the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission). Following a hearing on the merits, an administrative judge found that Pruitt was to undergo an additional MRI of his lower back. After the additional MRI, the administrative judge issued an amended order and found that Pruitt did not suffer any permanent disability or loss of wage-earning capacity. Pruitt appealed to the Commission, which adopted the findings of the administrative judge. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Pruitt began working at Howard Industries in 1992 loading steel onto a platform. Pruitt performed this job until 2000, at which time he left his employment with Howard Industries and began a full-time career in ministry. In 2004, Pruitt returned to work for Howard Industries as a final assembly-line worker. As part of his duty as a final assembler, he often would bolt down transformer air compartments to pallets. On July 9, 2012, while in the scope of his employment, Pruitt was lifting an air-compressor unit on a transformer, when "something popped in [his] back . . . and [he] couldn't move at all."

         ¶3. Several doctors examined Pruitt after his injury. He first went to MEA Medical Clinic in Laurel, where an MRI revealed that Pruitt had lumbar spondylosis in his lower back. He then was referred to Dr. Michael Patterson of Southern Bone & Joint Specialists, who treated Pruitt conservatively without the need for surgery and released Pruitt to return to "full duty work" with no restrictions. On August 26 and 27, 2013, Robbie Bishop, an occupational therapist with similarly named Southern Bone and Joint Rehabilitation, performed a functional-capacity-evaluation (FCE) test on Pruitt and assigned him a three-percent impairment of the whole body with certain restrictions. Following his FCE, he returned to work at Howard Industries in the same position with accommodations.[1]

         ¶4. On May 5, 2014, Pruitt filed a petition to controvert with the Commission alleging he had sustained a compensable injury to his back in 2012 while in the scope of employment with Howard Industries. Howard Industries admitted that the injury occurred in the scope of employment but denied that he had suffered any loss of wage-earning capacity as a result of the injury.

         ¶5. On August 21, 2015, Dr. Rahul Vohra, of NewSouth Neurospine, conducted an independent evaluation of Pruitt and reviewed all of his medical records relating to his back injury. Dr Vohra found that Pruitt reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) in September 2013 and recommended that a second MRI be taken to compare acute and structural damages.

         ¶6. On October 15, 2015, a hearing on the merits was held before an administrative judge. The administrative judge agreed with Dr. Vohra's opinion and ordered Pruitt to undergo a second MRI of his lower back. On April 12, 2016, following the results of the second MRI, the administrative judge issued an amended opinion and order, finding that Pruitt failed to prove that he suffered any permanent disability or loss of wage-earning capacity. Pruitt sought review from the Commission, which affirmed and adopted the decision of the administrative judge. Pruitt appealed.

         STANDARD ...


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