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Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi Inc. v. Dependents of Angela Slate

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 1, 2019

BAPTIST MEMORIAL HOSPITAL-NORTH MISSISSIPPI INC. AND BAPTIST MEMORIAL HEALTH CARE CORPORATION APPELLANTS
v.
DEPENDENTS OF ANGELA SLATE APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/18/2018

          APPEALED: COMMISSION TRIBUNAL FROM WHICH MISSISSIPPI WORKERS' COMPENSATION

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: MARJORIE T. MATLOCK

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: J. KEITH PEARSON SARAH LYNN DICKEY

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., McDONALD AND McCARTY, JJ.

          MCCARTY, J.

         ¶1. After an employee was found dead at work, her family sought workers' compensation benefits. Her employer sought to rebut the presumption that her death was compensable. The Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission determined that the employer had not met its burden and awarded death benefits to the decedent's family. We affirm because these findings were supported by substantial evidence.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. At the time of her death in 2016, Angela Slate was a material-management technician at Baptist Memorial Hospital. She had worked at Baptist since 2006. Her morning job duties consisted of filling requisitions and delivering supplies to the various hospital departments. Her afternoon duties consisted of processing patient charges and handling paper work. Her job required lifting and some pushing and pulling of supplies. Her boss, Gayle Watts, testified that Slate was not required to lift anything over thirty pounds. However, on cross-examination, Watts admitted that Slate's job description was described as "medium" or "high energy level," meaning that Slate was required to lift and carry up to fifty pounds up to thirty-five percent of the day and push or pull between 150-200 pounds for sixty-seven to one-hundred percent of the day. Watts stated that Slate had been angry after being denied a promotion several months before her death. Because Watts did not see Slate that day, she could not testify as to Slate's work activities.

         ¶3. Eddie Slate, Slate's husband, testified that he had been married to Slate for over twenty-six years and they had four children. Eddie said his wife had been stressed at work due to increased turnover, which resulted in Slate training the new employees. After Slate was denied the promotion, Eddie stated that she became moody and tired and began to look for another job within the department.

         ¶4. Another co-worker, Nicholas Griffin, saw Slate return to her office after lunch on the day that she died. Griffin stated that he walked past Slate's office possibly two times and glimpsed Slate at her desk. In his testimony, he agreed that it was fair to say he probably saw his co-worker for only around a total of six seconds in that patch of time. Around 2:30 p.m., Griffin walked past Slate's office again and thought she was sleeping. He and another employee approached Slate but noticed that she was dead. Emergency personnel attempted to revive Slate without success. The death certificate listed Slate's cause of death as acute myocardial infarction. The parties agree that no autopsy was conducted.

         ¶5. Neither Watts nor Griffin had any knowledge of what Slate was doing between 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on the day of her death. Watts could not remember seeing Slate at all that particular day, and Griffin only saw Slate when he walked past her office. There was no direct evidence as to what had actually happened on the day in question.

         ¶6. Dr. James Stone, a clinical cardiac electrophysiologist, was retained as an expert by Baptist to testify about Slate's death. In his deposition, Dr. Stone conceded outright that he could not state with a reasonable degree of medical certainty the exact cause of Slate's death because no autopsy was conducted.[1] However, he believed that Slate's sudden death could only be attributed to a limited number of causes. Dr. Stone stated that the number one cause of sudden death is heart attack. Other potential causes included primary cardiac arrhythmia, genetic abnormalities, congenital abnormalities, pulmonary embolism, or stroke. Dr. Stone testified that "you cannot pinpoint one exact cause because there's no autopsy done. But there are a finite number of medical causes for an event like this. And so if you look at the finite number of causes, you would have to say that one of these was almost certainly the cause of death." Dr. Stone further stated that Slate "had no warning signs, no decrease in her ability to do her activity level, . . . nothing in her job description could have led to her heart attack."

         ¶7. On cross-examination, Dr. Stone admitted that he did not know what Slate was doing prior to her death. He also agreed that he could not rule out the possibility that Slate "could have fallen and struck her head." Likewise, when asked if "she could have been carrying a 100-pound box around for a while and that precipitate her getting short of breath," ...


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