Mike Gaba v. Southern Refrigerated Transport and Liberty Insurance Company

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March 16, 2005


[NO. F211407]


Larry D. Vaught, Judge

Appellant Mike Gaba appeals the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission reversing the Administrative Law Judge's decision and denying appellant benefits. The ALJ found that appellant was entitled to temporary total-disability benefits from August 15, 2002, through July 23, 2003; that he had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that he was entitled to compensation for a five-percent impairment rating; and that he was entitled to reasonable and necessary medical treatment for his compensable back injury. The Commission reversed, finding that appellant had failed to prove that he sustained a compensable injury. Appellant argues on appeal that the full Commission did not have a substantial basis for denying him relief. We disagree and affirm.

Appellant, a long haul truck driver, was injured on January 20, 2002, as he was driving through a truck terminal and hit a pothole. Appellant claimed that his air-suspension seat "bottomed out" when he hit the hole, causing him to injure his back and leg. Appellant was traveling approximately five to seven miles per hour at the time of the incident. Appellant asserted that he felt slight pain afterwards that gradually worsened as the day progressed. He informed his employer of the injury and was sent to a doctor that day. However, because appellant was away from home at the time, he was unable to see his regular physician. After the examination, the doctor diagnosed appellant with acute lumbar-myofascial strain and acute lower-back pain. He was given medication and told to take a couple of days off from work. He was also told to follow up with his regular physician if the condition worsened. Appellant returned to work a few days later and did not follow up or receive any additional medical treatment until seven months after the accident.

Evidence presented at the hearing revealed that appellant had a long history of back problems and other ailments, including spinal stenosis; frequent muscle spasms lasting three to four days; significant problems with arthritis in his knees, hips, and back; obesity; and heaving smoking. Additionally, appellant had been diagnosed around the age of fourteen with juvenile epiphysitis, a condition that affects the back.

Between the time of the injury and August 2002, appellant saw another doctor to treat an abscess in his left leg. Although appellant testified that his back and leg pain had worsened during this time, he never reported that pain to his doctor. After an examination on August 15, 2002, Dr. Kevin Kleinschmidt ordered an MRI of appellant's lumbar spine. The test results revealed that appellant suffered from lumbar stenosis and spondylosis, conditions that were complicated by his morbid obesity and smoking habit. In a letter to appellant's attorney dated January 8, 2003, appellant's then treating physician, Dr. John Campbell, stated that it was his opinion that it was possible that appellant's condition might have been exacerbated by the accident. He also stated that surgery was not recommended because of appellant's obesity.

Appellant continued to receive treatment for his pain, including physical therapy, and was released to work on February 10, 2003. On July 23, 2003, Dr. John Sklar stated in a letter to appellant's attorney that appellant suffered from a degenerative disc disease that caused chronic pain in his hip and knee that predated his injury. Because appellant's myriad of medical conditions made surgery an unlikely prospect, Dr. Sklar stated that appellant was at, or very near, maximum medical improvement.

Based on this evidence, the full Commission denied appellant benefits. It found that, at best, appellant had suffered a back strain from the incident, for which he received treatment, then declined to initiate any follow-up treatment for seven months. Based on his complicated medical history and the fact that he did not seek treatment for the injury for seven months, the Commission found that appellant did not sustain a compensable injury. Rather, it found that appellant's problems were preexisting. The Commission additionally found that even if appellant had proven he suffered a compensable injury, he did not prove he was entitled to temporary or permanent benefits.

In reviewing decisions from 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 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 exists if reasonable minds could reach the same conclusion. Id. at 432, 143 S.W.3d at 595. If reasonable minds could reach the conclusion of the Commission, its decision must be affirmed. K II Constr. Co. v. Crabtree, 78 Ark. App. 222, 79 S.W.3d 414 (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,84 Ark. App. at 432-33, 143 S.W.3d at 595. We cannot undertake a de novo review of the evidence and are limited by the standard of review in these cases. Crabtree, 78 Ark. App. at 225, 79 S.W.3d at 416. The Commission has the duty of weighing medical evidence, and, if the evidence is in conflict, determining its resolution is a question of fact for the Commission. Whaley v. Hardee's, 51 Ark. App. 166, 912 S.W.2d 14 (1995). Additionally, the determination of the credibility and weight to be given a witness's testimony is solely within the providence of the Commission. Am. Greetings Corp. v. Garey, 61 Ark. App. 18, 963 S.W.2d 613 (1998).

Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-102(4)(A)(i) (Supp. 2003) defines "compensable injury" as "[a]n accidental injury causing internal or external harm ... arising out of and in the course of employment ...." In order to prove a compensable injury, appellant had to prove a causal relationship between the injury and the employment. Horticare Landscape Mgmt. v. McDonald, 80 Ark. App. 45, 89 S.W.3d 375 (2002). Objective medical evidence is necessary to establish the existence and extent of an injury, but it is not essential to establish the causal relationship. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. VanWagner, 337 Ark. 443, 990 S.W.2d 522 (1999).

In this case, the Commission's decision was supported by substantial evidence. The Commission noted appellant's long history of medical problems with his back and legs, as well as his collection of other medical problems. It found that although appellant truly believed his stenosis was caused by his work-related injury, the medical evidence presented pointed to a contrary conclusion-that appellant's stenosis was preexisting and only possibly aggravated by the injury. The Commission was especially persuaded by the fact that appellant had not sought or received any additional medical treatment for his injury for over seven months after his initial treatment and release. Based on the evidence presented and our standard of review in workers' compensation cases, we are satisfied that reasonable minds could reach the same conclusion as the Commission. Because the Commission's decision was supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.


Hart and Crabtree, JJ., agree.