Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Julie Strattan

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November 17, 2004



John Mauzy Pittman, Judge

The appellee in this workers' compensation case was employed by Wal-Mart as a department manager on January 25, 2002. She filed a claim for benefits alleging that she sustained a compensable back injury on that date when a stack of batteries tipped over on her. After a hearing, the Commission found that appellee sustained a compensable back injury and was entitled to reasonable medical benefits and temporary total disability benefits until the end of her healing period or until such time as she is released to return to work. On appeal, Wal-Mart contends that there is no substantial evidence to support the Commission's findings that appellee sustained a compensable injury on January 25, 2002, or that she is entitled to temporary total disability benefits beyond April 15, 2002. We affirm.

In determining the sufficiency of the evidence to support the findings of the Workers' Compensation Commission, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings, and we will affirm if

those findings are supported by substantial evidence, i.e., such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Farmers Cooperative v. Biles, 77 Ark. App. 1, 69 S.W.3d 899 (2002). The determination of the credibility and weight to be given a witness's testimony is within the sole province of the Commission. Swearengin v. Evergreen Lawns, 85 Ark. App. 61, ___ S.W.3d ___ (2004). 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. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Sands, 80 Ark. App. 51, 91 S.W.3d 93 (2002).

Wal-Mart's argument that there is no substantial evidence to support the Commission's findings that appellee sustained a compensable injury is founded wholly on its contention that appellee's testimony regarding the manner in which she sustained her injury is not credible. We do not agree. Appellee testified that she sustained an injury to her low back on a Friday afternoon when she went to the back of the store to retrieve some key blanks from a low cabinet, and an adjacent stack of marine batteries tipped over on her, knocking her to the ground. She stated that, although she experienced a sharp sensation in her back following the accident, she remained at work and did paperwork for the ninety minutes remaining in her shift. Appellee stated that her condition worsened over the weekend and that, although she went to the store the following Monday, she left to seek medical attention from Dr. Hatley.

Wal-Mart argues that this testimony regarding the origin of appellee's injury is not credible because of various discrepancies, e.g., evidence that appellee did not immediately report the injury at work in keeping with company policy; that appellee presented her private group insurance card at Dr. Hatley's office; and that she informed Dr. Hatley that she experienced the onset of back pain after sneezing. However, the Commission, while recognizing these discrepancies, found that they were the result of appellee's attempt to avoid currying disfavor with Wal-Mart higher management by filing a workers' compensation claim. In so finding, the Commission noted evidence that Wal-Mart management personnel previously encouraged her to file a prior, March 2000 work-related injury on her personal insurance and report it as having occurred at home so that the Wal-Mart store where she was employed could maintain a perfect record of no work-related injuries; that appellee was ambitious and hoping to advance in Wal-Mart management; and that appellee had stated to Wal-Mart management personnel that she did not want to file her current back injury under workers' compensation because "she was not that kind of person." We cannot say, on this record, that the Commission erred in finding that the erroneous history provided to Dr. Hatley regarding the origin of appellee's back injury resulted from appellee's misguided attempt to advance her career at Wal-Mart by misreporting the injury as arising from personal rather than work-related causes, and we hold that there is substantial evidence to support the Commission's finding that appellee sustained a compensable back injury.

Appellant also argues that there is no substantial evidence to support the Commission's finding that appellee was entitled to temporary total disability benefits beyond April 15, 2002. Wal-Mart asserts that the more credible evidence shows that appellee's continued disability after that date was the result of appellee not following her physician's instructions regarding medical restrictions on appellee's physical activity at work. However, we cannot say that this evidence is intrinsically so compelling as to require the Commission to disregard appellee's testimony that she exceeded her physical restrictions only because she was fearful of losing her job at Wal-Mart if she did not do so, or her physician's letter stating that she required additional time off work because Wal-Mart had ignored her medical restrictions.


Hart and Vaught, JJ., agree.