Courtney Harrison v. Mr. Burger of Arkansas, Inc. and AIG Claim Services, Inc.

Annotate this Case









CA 04-248

October 13, 2004





John F. Stroud, Jr., Chief Judge

Appellant, Courtney Harrison, was employed by appellee Mr. Burger of Arkansas, Inc. On July 25, 2002, appellant lost consciousness at work, fell, and was injured. She filed a workers' compensation claim. Following a hearing, the ALJ found that appellant had suffered an unexplained, rather than an idiopathic, injury, and that it was compensable. The ALJ also determined that the employer was responsible for related medical expenses, but that appellant was not entitled to temporary-total disability. The Commission reversed the ALJ, finding instead that appellant had suffered a noncompensable, idiopathic injury. For her sole point of appeal, appellant contends that the Commission erred in finding that she sustained an idiopathic fall. We find that the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for denial of relief, and we therefore affirm.

Standard of Review

When a workers' compensation claim is denied, the substantial evidence standard of review requires us to affirm the Commission if its opinion displays a substantial basis for denial of the relief sought by the worker. Daniels v. Arkansas Waffles, Inc., 83 Ark. App. 106, 117 S.W.3d 653 (2003). In determining the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the findings of the Commission, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings and affirm if they are supported by substantial evidence. Id. We will not reverse the Commission's decision unless we are convinced that fair-minded persons with the same facts before them could not have reached the conclusions arrived at by the Commission. Searcy Indus. Laundry, Inc. v. Ferren, 82 Ark. App. 69, 110 S.W.3d 306 (2003). The question is not whether the evidence would have supported findings contrary to the ones made by the Commission; there may be substantial evidence to support the Commission's decision even though we might have reached a different conclusion if we had sat as the trier of fact or had heard the case de novo. Burris v. L & B Moving Storage, 83 Ark. App. 290, 123 S.W.3d 123 (2003). In making our review, we recognize that it is the Commission's function to determine the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. Daniels v. Arkansas Waffles, supra.

Idiopathic Versus Unexplained Injury

In ERC Contractor Yard & Sales v. Robertson, 335 Ark. 63, 71, 977 S.W.2d 212, 216 (1998), our supreme court explained:

We first note that injuries sustained due to an unexplained cause are different from injuries where the cause is idiopathic. An idiopathic fall is one whose cause is personal in nature, or peculiar to the individual. 1 Larson, Workers' Compensation Law, ยง 12.11 (1998); see also Kuhn v. Majestic Hotel, 324 Ark. 21 918 S.W.2d 158 (1996); Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bur. v. Pack, 60 Ark. App. 82, 959 S.W.2d 415 (1997); Moore v. Darling Store Fixtures, 22 Ark. App. 21, 732 S.W.2d 496 (1987). Because an idiopathic fall is not related to employment, it is generally not compensable unless conditions related to employment contribute to the

risk by placing the employee in a position which increases the dangerous effect of the fall. Larson, supra.

The Evidence

Appellant testified that on July 25, 2002, she was employed by appellee Mr. Burger and had worked there for three and a half weeks. She stated that as soon as she clocked in on that date, she began to wash windows and clean tables because the manager, Jack Pierce, had received a call that the owners were coming to do a site inspection. She stated that the area she was cleaning included the kitchen and grill. She stated that she was cleaning as well as taking orders and cooking, and that such work involves twisting, stooping, and bending. She said that her job also involved going to the freezer and getting french fries and carrying them back to where she could work on them on the grill. She testified that she did not do any mopping at that time; that she did not know exactly what temperature it was on the day in question; and that it was middle or late July and the building was small, old, and made of cinder blocks. She said that she had no reason to disagree with charts that indicated it was approximately eighty-six degrees at the time she went to work on that date. She said that the owners arrived after she had been cleaning for about five minutes. She said that after the owners left, she took a break, smoked a cigarette, and drank a soft drink. She said that she then got up to help a customer. She stated that after she got up and went to wait on the customer, she passed out, and that the next thing she remembered was being in the ambulance.

Appellant testified that after the fall, she was hospitalized for about four days; that she has had headaches and dizziness; and that she was ready to go back to her regular duties about a month after the fall. She stated that she returned to high school on August 19. She also stated that she had never fainted before.

Appellant recounted that she had just had braces applied to her teeth two days before the fall; that the doctor had not given her any medication to dull the pain; and that it made her gums tender. She stated, however, that she had eaten between July 23, when she had the braces put on, and July 25, when she passed out. She stated that she normally ate breakfast, usually oatmeal or cereal, and that she did not remember telling anyone that the last thing she ate was a grilled-cheese sandwich. She stated that she went with a friend to Wal-Mart on the night of July 24, and that she could have eaten a cheeseburger, but she did not know.

Jack Pierce, the manager of Mr. Burger, testified that he did not remember the exact temperature outside on July 25, but that it was hot. He said that there were two separate air conditioners in the facility and that he did not think it was unusually hot or cold that day, just average. He said that the coolest part of the building was the dining room, and that appellant was standing in the coolest part of the kitchen area of the business when she fainted. He said that he did not recall any other employees complaining that it was particularly hot that day. He said that the only thing unusual about that date was that the owners were coming for an on-site inspection. He said that he asked some of the employees to do a spot cleanup because he wanted the place to look better for the owners.

Robbie Linthicum testified that he and Courtney worked together at Mr. Burger and that the temperature was normal that day.

In his notes, Dr. Luke Knox wrote that he saw appellant on July 25, 2002, and that the CT scan showed a subtentorial subdural hematoma. He said that the neurological consult indicated that appellant felt hot, fainted, fell backwards, and hit her head on the floor, and that she initially had some nausea and vomiting but that it had resolved itself.

Dr. Michael Morse, a neurologist, wrote in his report that appellant was a sixteen-year-old girl "who two days ago felt very hot while working at Mr. Burger"; and that she hada syncopal event, fell backwards, and hit her head on the floor. He reported that she felt back to normal; that she had never had a syncopal event in the past; and that she stated she just got hot and lightheaded.

The emergency-room report noted that appellant was at work, that she felt hot and lightheaded, and that the syncopal event followed. The report also noted that appellant had new braces and that she had been unable to eat much. Another emergency-room record noted that appellant's last meal was a grilled-cheese sandwich. Other medical records also revealed that appellant was taking birth-control medication and that she had used marijuana within the past year.

Finally, in response to a letter from appellee's attorney, Dr. Michael Morse wrote a letter dated February 6, 2003, in which he opined that he saw "nothing in the work environment which might have precipitated [appellant's] spell." He summarized his report as follows:

To summarize, this patient had an event of vasovagal syncope. She appears to have had some warning in the feeling that she was hot and sweating. It was further exacerbated by not having had breakfast and perhaps the cigarette smoking had some role, especially if she performed the Valsalva maneuver.1 Given the events you related to me about the climate inside the restaurant, it is very unlikely that any environmental factor played a role in her vasovagal syncope.

The Commission's Decision Displays a Substantial Basis for Denial of the Claim

Here, the Commission reversed the ALJ and concluded that "[t]he preponderance of evidence shows that the claimant sustained an idiopathic fall." Supporting that conclusion, the Commission noted that "the record does not indicate that the claimant was working in inordinately hot conditions." Moreover, the Commission focused on the evidence that indicated that appellant was not eating much because she had just had braces applied to her teeth. Finally, the Commission noted Dr. Morse's letter in which he opined that he saw nothing in the work environment that might have precipitated appellant's fainting spell. We hold that the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for the denial of appellant's claim.


Pittman and Crabtree, JJ., agree.

1 A valsalva maneuver is defined as "any forced expiratory effort against a closed airway, as when an individual holds his breath and tightens his muscles in a concerted, strenuous effort to move a heavy object or to change position in bed." Mosby's Medical & Nursing Dictionary 1124 (1983).