Rosemary Hall v. Baldor Electric Company et al.

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NOVEMBER 3, 2004




Karen R. Baker, Judge

Appellant, Rosemary Hall, appeals the denial of benefits by the Workers' Compensation Commission asserting that the Commission erred in failing to find that she sustained a compensable injury to her back when she reported the incident on the same day but her symptoms did not occur until approximately two and one-half hours after the job-related event. We find no error and affirm.

Appellant testified that she and a co-worker lifted a basket of wire weighing approximately 120 pounds around 1:00 a.m. on July 30, 2002. Appellant worked a night shift that began at 11:00 p.m. on July 29 and ended at approximately 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. on the morning of July 30, and this was a few hours into her shift when the incident occurred. She experienced no pain at the time of the lifting. Appellant further testified that she did not notice any symptoms or complaints until after a break taken two and one-half to three hours after the basket- lifting event. Her testimony reflects that at the time her back started hurting, she was simply standing in front of a "lacing machine," monitoring its operation, and was not doing anything particularly stressful in regard to her back. Appellant explained that she personally concluded that her subsequent back difficulties were related to the lifting. She called into work before her 11:00 p.m. shift started on July 30 and advised the second-shift supervisor that she had hurt her back "the night before," would not be in for her shift, and would go to her doctor the next morning. She went to her family doctor on July 31, 2002, and gave a history of the onset of her problem occurring July 30.

In challenging the Commission's decision, appellant emphasizes language that states that it was illogical to believe the causal relationship between appellant's back injury and the lifting incident. The Commission, in adopting the Administrative Law Judge=s decision, specifically noted that appellant associated her back difficulties to the lifting incident simply because this incident was the "only thing different" that she did that night at work. The Commission found that the only evidence supporting the causal relationship between the injury and the incident was appellant's testimony.

The Commission then explained that the medical history taken by appellant's physician on July 31, 2002, noted that the onset of the back pain began the day before, but did not record any employment-related incident or activity as the cause or precipitating event for these symptoms. His reports and records from subsequent events also failed to note any employment-related cause for appellant's back complaints.

In addition, a supervisor's accident investigation report, apparently completed by appellant=s supervisor on August 7, 2002, described an incident similar to that contained in appellant's testimony, but identified the only symptom of complaint of appellant in the form of a "catch" in her left shoulder. The report contained no mention of back pain, but did note that appellant had sought medical services on her own "without telling anyone." Appellant, in her testimony, denied that she ever had left shoulder pain or a "catch."

The Commission also relied on the fact that the first time that appellant's back symptoms and complaints are mentioned in conjunction with her employment in the medical records was in the physical therapy report of August 19, 2002. These same physical therapy records also noted a history of increased symptoms after appellant "fell out of a jeep the other day and landed on her left leg." The Commission further relied on the fact that the medical providers' notes contained no indication that appellant informed them that her back difficulties began a few hours following the lifting incident.

In reviewing a decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission, this court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the findings of the Commission. Magnet Cove Sch. Dist. v. Barnett, 81 Ark. App. 11, 97 S.W.3d 909 (2003). These findings will be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id.; Wheeler Constr. Co. v. Armstrong, 73 Ark. App. 146, 41 S.W.3d 822 (2001). If reasonable minds could reach the result found by the Commission, we must affirm the decision. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Brown, 73 Ark. App. 174, 40 S.W.3d 835 (2001). In making our review, we recognize that it is the function of the Commission to determine the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. Williams v. L & W Janitorial Inc., 84 Ark. App. 1, 127 S.W.3d 486 (2004).

Furthermore, the Commission has the duty of weighing medical evidence. Id. Under Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-102(4)(A) (Supp.2003), a compensable injury is defined in part as: (i) An accidental injury causing internal or external physical harm to the body or accidental injury ... arising out of and in the course of employment and which requires medical services or results in disability or death. An injury is "accidental" only if it is caused by a specific incident and is identifiable by time and place of occurrence. A compensable injury must be established by medical evidence supported by objective findings. Heritage Baptist Temple v. Robison, 82 Ark. App. 460, 120 S.W.3d 150 (2003) (citing Ark. Code Ann. 11-9-102(4)(D)). "Objective findings" are those findings which cannot come under the voluntary control of the patient. Id. (citing Ark. Code Ann. 11-9-102(16)(A)(I)). Further, medical opinions addressing compensability must be stated within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. Smith-Blair, Inc. v. Jones, 77 Ark. App. 273, 72 S.W .3d 560 (2002). Speculation and conjecture cannot substitute for credible evidence. Id. The burden of proof is on the employee and is as follows: (i) For injuries falling within the definition of compensable injury under subdivision (4)(A)(i) of this section, the burden of proof shall be a preponderance of the evidence. Ark. Code Ann. 11-9-102(4)(E) (Supp.2003).

As the Commission noted in reaching its decision, appellant's belief, no matter how sincere, is simply not sufficient to prove the existence of a causal relationship between the specific employment related incident on July 30, 2002, and her subsequently medically established and objectively documented back injury or condition. We must defer to the Commission's determinations as to credibility and the weight of medical evidence. Because the Commission relied upon the omission of notations referring to work-related onset of symptoms in the initial medical records together with the first notation of a work-related injury included only after appellant fell from a truck, we cannot say that there is no substantial evidence to support the Commission's decision.

Accordingly, we cannot say that reasonable minds could not have reached the conclusion reached by the Commission.


Hart and Bird, JJ., agree