Joseph Phillips v. North Point Ford and Zurich Insurance Company

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October 27, 2004









Olly Neal, Judge

Appellant Joseph Phillips appeals the denial of his claim for workers' compensation benefits. On appeal, he alleges that the Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) erred when it denied his claim for medical and temporary disability benefits. We affirm.

In reviewing decisions from the Workers' Compensation Commission, the appellate court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings, and we affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. City of Fort Smith, 84 Ark. App. 430, 143 S.W.3d 593 (2004). Substantial evidence is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Horticare Landscape Mgmt. v. McDonald, 80 Ark. App. 45, 89 S.W.3d 375 (2002). When a claim is denied because the claimant has failed to show an entitlement to compensation by a preponderance of the evidence, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires us to affirm if the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief. Smith v. City of Fort Smith, supra.

Appellant is sixty-seven years old. He worked approximately nine months for appellee North Point Ford, cleaning the cars on the lot. On December 12, 2002, while going to get a car, appellant slipped in some oil and fell backward. This caused appellant to hit his head on the bumper of a car and the concrete. As a result of his fall, appellant allegedly sustained injuries to his shoulder and neck. After seeking treatment at a local hospital, appellant was referred to his personal physician, Dr. Harold Betton, for further treatment. Shortly thereafter, appellant began experiencing blackouts. In an attempt to determine the source of appellant's blackouts, appellant was seen by several physicians. However, due to appellant's noncompliance, the source of appellant's blackouts was undetermined. Appellant's claim for workers' compensation benefits was controverted by appellee and a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

At the hearing before the ALJ, appellant testified that prior to the December 12 incident, he had never sought treatment for blackouts. Appellant said that he previously worked nine years for Ford Motor Company, and after being laid off, he went to work for General Motors. Appellant testified that after fourteen years, his employment at General Motors ended when he suffered a low back injury. He said that the injury required surgery and that in order to return to work he had to first sign an agreement. Appellant explained that he refused to sign the agreement. He admitted that since his back surgery, he had suffered from weakness in his leg. Appellant said that, following the December 12 incident, he continued to have problems with his shoulder and neck and that he continued to experience bad headaches. Although he had not been released to return to work, appellant said that he needed extra money so he went to work as a school bus monitor, working five hours a day, five times per week. Appellant said he worked at the job for about a month before quitting because his "nerves were getting bad." Appellant said that when he took the job he was still having headaches and blackouts. Appellant testified that, because he passed out while driving, the revenue department placed a restriction on his driver's license and he was no longer able to drive.

The ALJ found that appellant sustained an injury, i.e. abrasions, that arose out of and in the course of his employment. However, she found that appellant was unable to prove a causal connection between his fall and the blackouts, and therefor she denied appellant's claim for workers' compensation benefits. The full Commission affirmed and adopted the decision of the ALJ. From that decision comes this appeal.

As the claimant, appellant had the burden of proving a compensable injury by a preponderance of the evidence. Smith v. City of Fort Smith, supra. Thus, in order to prove that he sustained a compensable injury he had to prove that (1) the injury arose out of and in the course of the employment, (2) the injury caused internal or external physical harm to the body that required medical services or resulted in disability or death, and (3) the injury was a major cause of the disability or need for treatment. Smith-Blair, Inc. v. Jones, 77 Ark. App. 273, 72 S.W.3d 560 (2002).

Determination of the existence of a causal connection is a question of fact for the Commission. Goodwin v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 72 Ark. App. 302, 37 S.W.3d 644 (2001). Objective medical evidence is necessary to establish the existence and extent of an injury but not essential to establish the causal relationship between the injury and a work-related accident. Horticare Landscape Mgmt. v. McDonald, supra. Objective medical evidence is not essential to establish the causal relationship between the injury and a work-related accident where objective medical evidence establishes the existence and extent of the injury, and a preponderance of other nonmedical evidence establishes a causal relation to a work-related incident. Id.

The medical evidence presented during the hearing failed to establish the existence of a compensable injury. A CT scan performed on December 29, 2002, suggested that appellant may have sustained a head injury prior to the December 12 incident. Appellant's medical history in a July 1, 1999 emergency room report indicates that appellant had informed the medical personnel that he suffered numerous falls due to problems associated with his left leg. In addition, a June 10, 2001 discharge summary evidences appellant's noncompliance with medical personal. The discharge summary provides in pertinent part:

The patient was again instructed not to get up without assistance and he also was informed/instructed to have his [unable to discern from the original] in bed. The patient became upset when these rules were reinforced and, apparently, became frustrated on June 10, 2001, and requested to be discharged. According to the electrocephalogram technicians, the patient also almost hit one of the nurses in his frustration. Since the patient demanded to be discharged, he was discharged to home against medical advice. The patient did not experience any further episodes of syncope, but his recordings on June 9, 2001, to June 10, 2001, did reveal some focal sharply contoured theta slowing over the left hemisphere associated with occasional spikes over the left [unable to discern from the original] hemisphere. But, since the patient was discharged against medical advice, further clarification with regards to the above abnormality could not be determined.

Furthermore, the ALJ found the following:

Based on the medical evidence the claimant cannot meet his burden of proving that the fall at work caused anything more than abrasions.

The onset and duration of the claimant's symptoms is erratic. His reported syncope episodes decreased from daily occurrences which prevented him from driving to infrequent events which allowed him to drive and return to work when he found a job. His complaints about these symptoms ring hollow when he will not comply with medical testing long enough to evaluate those symptoms.

It is the function of the Commission to determine the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. Horticare Landscape Mgmt. v. McDonald, supra.

Due to appellant's failure to cooperate with the various medical staff, the Commission could have found that the medical evidence failed to establish the extent of appellant's injury. Appellant also failed to prove by a preponderance of the nonmedical evidence a causal relationship between his current complaints and his work-related incident. Viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings, we hold that the decision of the Commission is supported by substantial evidence and thereby affirm.


Pittman and Gladwin, JJ., agree.