NOTICE OF ORIGINAL SYMPTOMS SUFFICIENT EVEN WHEN SYMPTOMS MANIFEST THEMSELVES INTO SUBSEQUENT INJURY DATE
Francis Powell Enterprises, Inc. v. Andrews:
On April 24, 2009, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released a twenty-four (24) page opinion which covered numerous issues. Due to the voluminous nature of the opinion, bullet point summaries of the issues are provided below.
In this case the employee felt pain in his back after a fall on November 3, 2003. However, he did not think it was serious and went on with his job. On November 5, 2003, the plaintiff was on the job and felt the pain again and could not straighten up. He notified his employer on November 6, 2003 of the November 3, 2003 fall. The employer argued that the employee said he did not believe he sustained a major injury on November 3, 2003. Therefore, the employer took the position that the Trial Court made no findings concerning adequate notice of the November 5, 2003 injury.
The Court of Civil Appeals held that November 3, 2003 was the date of injury and this was supported by substantial evidence. The Court held that the seriousness of the employee’s injury from the November 3, 2003 fall did not manifest itself until later, November 5, 2003. For this reason there was substantial evidence that the injury was on November 3, 2003 and the employee provide adequate notice of the injury pursuant to Ala. Code §25-5-88.
The treating physician testified that, based on an assumed set of facts, which mirrored the plaintiff’s past medical history, he would assume the November 3, 2003 fall exacerbated the employee’s condition. The Court noted the Alabama Supreme Court’s previous ruling, Ex parte Bryant, "In appropriate circumstance, awards may be made when the medical evidence on these matters is inconclusive, indecisive, fragmentary, inconsistent, or even nonexistent.
The Court held that the doctor’s assumption based on the hypothetical facts mirroring the employees medical history provided substantial evidence of medical causation.
Apportionment of Benefits
The fact that the employee was previously deemed permanently and totally disabled by the Social Security Administration did not trigger the apportionment provision set forth in Ala. Code §25-5-58. The Court found that the employee had returned to work at full duty thus nullifying the effect of the prior decision
The evidence before the Court was that the employee received Social Security benefits until 2001. After this period he returned to work, at full duty, for several employers without complaints of back pain. Therefore, the Court found the previous Social Security benefits did not estop him from claiming he was able to do his job.
Note: The employer tried to establish that the employee received benefits from Social Security in 2003 as well. However, the Court noted that the employer did not present sufficient evidence to prove this. Therefore, it is possible the outcome would have been different if the employer had provided sufficient evidence of benefits in 2003.
Payment of Benefits not Admission of Guilt
The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act §25-5-56 provides that if an employer pays compensation benefits to an employee, it is not an admission of liability. Based on this the Court can not infer that because an employer paid benefits that they are liable for the claim. The Court held that they must presume the Trial Court knows the law. Therefore, the fact payment of benefits is mentioned in the Trial Court’s findings of fact does not indicate an improper inference and was not error.