Court of Appeals Upholds Two-Part Test for Causation but Affirms Judgment for Employee
On April 20, 2012, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its decision in the case of Ex parte Advantage Resourcing, Inc., in which it addressed both legal and medical causation. Hennon Hollinghead was allegedly injured on January 21, 2010, when he fell on a walkway between the parking lot and the shop where he regularly performed his work duties. The undisputed evidence presented at trial indicated that Hollinghead had begun walking from his car into the shop, turned around to get his two-way radio which he had left in his car, and then returned down the walkway back toward the shop until he slipped on a PVC pipe. Hollinghead sued Advantage, and the trial Court found in favor of Hollinghead. Advantage appealed, arguing that the trial Court erred in finding the alleged accident compensable, and that the Court erred in finding that the accident caused the injuries.
The Court of Appeals held that there was substantial evidence from which the trial Court could find a causal connection between the work and the injury. The appellate court cited Ex parte Byrom, 895 So.2d 942 (Ala., 2004), stating that in order to recover, a claimant must ‘establish a definite causal connection between the work and the injury such that a rational mind is able to trace the resultant personal injury to a proximate cause set in motion by the employment, and not by some other agency.’ The Court noted that the walkway was used by other employees, and the two-way radio was a "required tool of Hollinghead’s work." The Court further pointed to Benoit Coal Mining Co. v. Moore, 215 Ala. 220, 222-23, 109 So. 878, 880 (1926), which held ‘the movement of the employee in entering, at the appropriate time, the employer’s premises to discharge his function and his preparation to begin....his actual service are deemed naturally related and incidental acts in the course of the employment.’
Additionally, Advantage argued that the evidence presented at trial, namely the deposition testimony of three doctors and the live testimony of Hollinghead, was insufficient to establish medical causation. In support of this argument, Advantage presented evidence that Hollinghead had suffered a neck injury several years before the alleged accident, as well as medical records indicating that Hollinghead’s pain was arthritic in nature. Quoting Ex parte McInish, 47 So. 3d 767, 779 (Ala. 2008), the Court held that ‘it is the overall substance and effect of the whole of evidence, when viewed in the full context of all the lay and expert evidence, and not in the witness’s use of any magical words or phrases, that the causation test finds its application." Additionally, the appellate Court noted that in order to establish medical causation, a claimant need not prove that the work-accident is the sole cause or even the dominant cause of the injury, but that it is sufficient to establish that it was a contributing cause. Based on this, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial Court’s ruling.