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Jones v. Mississippi Baptist Health Systems Inc.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 25, 2019

ANGELA JONES APPELLANT
v.
MISSISSIPPI BAPTIST HEALTH SYSTEMS INC. AND MISSISSIPPI BAPTIST HEALTH SERVICES APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/06/2018

          TRIBUNAL FROM WHICH MISSISSIPPI WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEALED: COMMISSION

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GILSON DAVIS PETERSON

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ANDREW D. SWEAT JENNIFER HUGHES SCOTT

         EN BANC.

          MCCARTY, J.

         ¶1. This case is before the Court on appeal from an order the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission entered. Angela Jones alleges she was injured when her back "pop[ped]" while pushing a medicine cart during her nursing shift at Baptist Hospital. In an evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Judge (AJ) found that Jones sustained a compensable work-related injury. Mississippi Baptist Health Systems petitioned the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission for review. The Commission reversed the AJ's order and determined that Jones did not sustain a compensable work-related injury. Aggrieved, Jones now appeals the Commission's decision.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Jones worked as registered nurse for Baptist Hospital for fourteen years. Jones testified that on March 21, 2015, she was pushing a medicine cart during her shift when she felt a "pop" in her right lower back. She then felt a burning sensation going down her right thigh. Jones asked the only witness to the event, her charge nurse, Theresa Blanton, if she too heard the "pop." Blanton said she did not. However, Blanton did testify that Jones's behavior changed and that she was visibly in pain and limping afterward.

         ¶3. Two days later Jones sought treatment from her family physician, Dr. Larry Sivils. On the patient information sheet at Dr. Sivils' office, Jones circled "no" when asked whether the visit was related to an injury. When the information sheet asked about the date and cause of the injury, Jones marked through the corresponding blanks with two lines and added a question mark. On his notes for this visit, Dr. Sivils documented that Jones "denie[d] direct injury."

         ¶4. That same day, Jones emailed the nurse manager, Jamie Hill, informing him of her condition. In the email she wrote she "started having trouble on Tuesday last week with [her] leg, but Friday night it was hurting a lot." She also informed Hill that her leg problem began after her back started hurting and a "pop" in her lower back the week before.

         ¶5. Jones then sought treatment from Dr. Eric Amundson. On the patient history form Jones circled "no" and added a question mark in response to whether she sustained an injury and to whether the problem was due to an on-the-job injury. She also added a question mark on the section asking how she was injured. In his notes for that visit, Dr. Amundson documented "nine days ago patient reports developing right buttock and hip pain with radiation into her lateral thigh and anterior thigh . . . her pain progressed significantly six days ago . . . she denies any precipitating event." Dr. Amundson then referred Jones for an MRI.

         ¶6. Jones then saw Dr. Edwin Dodd. On her patient forms Jones wrote "at work, not an accident," "pain just began, I can't relate it to anything," and "progressive for years." She noted on the form that her pain was "progressive after several shifts in a row, overtime was at work." Jones responded in the negative to whether her pain or injury was a workers' compensation case. Dr. Dodd's notes indicate that Jones described "an approximate five-to-six year history of low back pain, which has been intermittently problematic . . . . [S]he began experiencing some new onset of moderate low back pain and right lower extremity radiation approximately two weeks ago without any obvious precipitating event."

         ¶7. Jones consulted with Dr. James Woodall for a second opinion regarding her symptoms. On her patient history form Jones again marked "no" when asked whether her condition was a work injury. Dr. Woodall's notes indicate Jones told him that her pain was ongoing but had worsened over the last two months.

         ¶8. Five months after the injury Baptist Hospital approved Jones's request for FMLA leave. Two months after approving the FMLA Jones emailed a Baptist Hospital representative indicating that her injuries were related to pushing the medicine cart during her nursing shift. Baptist then initiated the process for investigating a worker's compensation claim.

         ¶9. In a letter to Baptist Hospital, Dr. Woodall wrote that he did not see "anything on her imaging that I could definitively say appeared acute, and it would be difficult for [him] to relate that."

         ¶10. Dr. Woodall testified that Jones's June 3, 2016 visit was the first time she had provided him with a history of pain starting with a "pop" in her back that day at work. He further testified that he could not "with reasonable probability" say that the condition for which he treated Jones resulted from the injury she suffered that day.

         ¶11. An evidentiary hearing was held before an administrative judge to determine whether Jones sustained a compensable, work-related injury. The AJ found Jones to be credible and that a preponderance of the evidence supported a finding that she sustained a compensable, work-related injury. Baptist Hospital appealed this decision with the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission. The Commission found that Jones did not present sufficient medical evidence to support her claim and entered an order reversing the AJ.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶12. This Court is authorized to review all questions of law and fact from an appeal of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission. Miss. Code Ann. § 71-3-51 (Supp. 2011). Great deference is afforded to the findings of the Commission, and such findings will not be disturbed when they are supported by substantial evidence. City of Jackson v. Sandifer, 125 So.3d 681, 686 (¶19) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013). However, where the Commission's application of the law is in error, this Court will not hesitate to reverse. Beverly Healthcare v. Hare, 51 So.3d 223, 229 (¶18) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010). When the Commission "fails to carry out the beneficent intent and purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act," such an error in law has occurred. Id.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶13. To establish a claim under workers' compensation law, a claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) there was an accidental injury, (2) arising out of and in the course of employment, and (3) there is a causal connection between the injury and the claimed disability. City of Jackson, 125 So.3d at 688 (¶27).

         ¶14. The issue in this appeal is whether the Commission correctly applied the law when it disregarded Jones's testimony in determining that she did not sustain a compensable and work-related injury during her nursing shift at Baptist Hospital.

         ¶15. "The Workers' Compensation Act is to be construed liberally in favor of claimants." Union Camp Corp. v. Hall, 955 So.2d 363, 371 (¶36) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). Doubtful cases should be resolved in favor of compensation. Id. "Based on the 'broad policy considerations undergirding the Workers' Compensation Act and the liberal construction to be given the compensation statutes,' the injured worker should prevail when the evidence is 'even.'" Id.

         ¶16. A claimant's testimony generally ought to be accepted as true unless that testimony is disputed or so unreasonable as to be unbelievable. Waffle House v. Allam, 976 So.2d 919, 921 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). Our Supreme Court has held that evidence not affirmatively contradicted and not "inherently improbable, incredible, or unreasonable" cannot be arbitrarily and capriciously discarded. Morris v. Landsell's Frame Co., 547 So.2d 782, 785 (¶5) (Miss. 1989). Further, unless shown to be untrustworthy, the uncontradicted evidence is to be taken as conclusive and binding. Id. This holds true even for testimony of an interested party. Id.

         ¶17. On the date in question Jones was pushing a medicine cart during her nursing shift at Baptist hospital. While pushing the cart, she felt a "pop" in her right lower back. She then felt a burning sensation going down her right thigh. This was corroborated by the only witness to the event, Blanton. At the moment of injury, Jones even turned to Blanton and asked if she heard her back "pop." Blanton replied that she had not heard the "pop." Blanton later testified that she saw Jones that day limping as if she was hurt. Therefore the uncontested evidence was that Jones suffered an injury while performing her duties as a nurse. The injury was further supported by Blanton's presence and subsequent corroboration. Furthermore, this is similar to other injuries sustained in the nursing field.[1]

         ¶18. In an analogous case, this Court reversed the Commission's decision to deny a nurse's claim for failure to present substantial and credible evidence. Beverly Healthcare v. Hare, 51 So.3d 223, 230 (¶24) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010). In Beverly a nurse was pushing a medicine cart while distributing medication during her shift at a nursing home. Beverly Healthcare, at 266 (ΒΆ9). ...


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