Leslie Purdy v. Little Rock School District

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Olly Neal, Judge

Appellant Leslie Purdy challenges the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission denying her claim for benefits. On appeal, she argues that the Commission's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm.

Leslie Purdy is employed in the Little Rock School District as a chemistry teacher at Hall High School. On December 2, 2002, while retrieving a make-up test from her metal file cabinet, the cabinet toppled over and fell on her. Two students had to remove the cabinet from appellant's person, and an ambulance was called.

Appellant received treatment at St. Vincent Hospital. Her chief complaint included pain to her left leg; also noted were pain to her left knee and a past history of "Back prob -/ Lumbar Disc." The x-ray of her pelvis and lateral left hip showed no fractures. Appellant was treated for a contusion and given a return-to-work slip allowing her to be off work for one week. Appellant returned to work within a couple of days due to concern for her students being left with a substitute for that length of time.

Thereafter, appellant testified that she began experiencing pain not only in her left legbut also in her right leg. Prior to her injury, appellant treated with Drs. Ault, Moore, and Ward for low back pain caused by significant weight gain and a rock climbing incident in 1998. The successful loss of over ninety pounds on the Atkins diet alleviated some of appellant's back pain; however, the accident at work, appellant claims, exacerbated her pain. Therefore, appellant sought benefits. The administrative law judge awarded appellant benefits; nevertheless, based upon its de novo review, the Commission reversed that decision, determining that appellant had failed to meet her burden of proof in establishing a compensable injury. It is from this decision that appellant now brings this appeal.

When an appeal is taken from the denial of a claim by the Workers' Compensation Commission, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires that we affirm the decision if the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief. McDonald v. Batesville Poultry Equip., ___ Ark. App. ___, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Apr. 13, 2005). In determining the sufficiency of the evidence to support the findings of the 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 those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Riddell Flying Serv. v. Callahan, ___ Ark. App. ___, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Apr. 6, 2005). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. McDonald v. Batesville Poultry Equip., supra. Although the appellate court defers to the Commission on issues involving the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses, the Commission may not disregard testimony and is not so insulated as to render appellate review meaningless. See id.

Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-102(4)(D) (Supp. 2003) requires that a compensable injury be established by objective findings. In order to prove a compensable injury, a claimant must prove, among other things, a causal relationship between the injuryand the employment. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Stotts, 74 Ark. App. 428, 49 S.W.3d 667 (2001). A claimant must also meet the requirements of Ark. Code Ann. ยง 11-9-102(4)(A)(a):

(1) that the injury arose out of and occurred in the course of the employment; (2) that the injury was caused by a specific incident; (3) that the injury is identifiable by time and place of occurrence; (4) that the injury caused internal or external physical harm to the claimant's body; (5) that the injury required medical services or resulted in disability.

In denying benefits, the Commission determined that appellant had not had any new physical problems since before the incident at work. It opined further that:

Any physical problems after December 2, 2002, were merely a continuation of her previous condition. Here, only Dr. Moore's subjective statement which relied on the erroneous belief that the claimant has never had complaints of pain in her right leg support the contention that her problems since December 2, 2002, were caused by the work related incident. Dr. Moore failed to point to any objective findings of a new injury to support his contention. Dr. Ward's letter simply stated his conclusions from a review of incomplete medical records without connecting them to any complaints by the claimant. The narrowing of the canal at L3-4 was continuing degeneration of the claimant's back condition. The medical evidence in the record indicated that claimant's symptoms were the consequence of her pre-existing condition. There was no evidence of a new injury that aggravated and accelerated or combined with the pre-existing injury. Rather, the medical evidence shows no new objective findings. Simply put, the claimant has fallen short of her burden of proof.

The record is void of any complaints by the claimant of any right leg pain to her regular treating physicians after December 2, 2002. The only notation in the record of right leg pain was almost twelve weeks after her work-related incident and the notation was in the MRI report. In order to accept that the 2003 MRI was taken in response to complaints of right leg pain, the lack of any complaints in the record leading up to that date notwithstanding, it must also be accepted that the 2000 MRI was taken in response to complaints of right leg pain. This runs counter to the claimant's contention and the Administrative Law Judge's findings that any problems to her right leg were new. Additionally, the claimant's testimony that she now suffers from right side back pain, in addition to right leg pain, is unsupported by the medical evidence. There is no notation in the medical records of any complaints on the right side of her back after December 2, 2002. The record establishes the claimant had right side pain prior to the incident at work and that after that incident she had predominant left leg and left side pain with occasional complaints of transient pain.

Therefore, after our de novo review of the record, we cannot find that the claimant has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she sustained a compensable injury. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Administrative LawJudge. This claim is denied and dismissed.

Substantial evidence supports the Commission's decision. Appellant does not refute the fact that she had previous problems with her back; however, there are no signs of a new injury. There were several MRIs performed for this problem, some prior to the incident on December 2, 2002. The first MRI in the record was performed April 3, 2000, after complaints of right leg pain. The MRI showed mild volume loss consistent with degenerative disc disease at L5-S1. The MRI performed on April 29, 2002, was performed as a result of complaints about low back pain and "left leg pain and numbness." It showed evidence of disc desiccation with a slight central disc bulge at L5-S1. No significant abnormalities were found at L3-4. It also showed a mild broad based bulge of the annulus at L4-5, without evidence of disc herniation or disc desiccation. Dr. Sunder Krishnan noted in a letter to Dr. Thomas Moore, dated May 15, 2002, that in his review of these MRIs, "no new changes have been noted. There is definitely evidence of annular tear at the L5/S1 level."

Although the record evidences medical reports from January 26 and March 30, 2000, where appellant made complaints of pain on her right side, no other complaints of right side pain are found in the medical records until it was mentioned in February 20, 2003, when another MRI was performed. The results of the February 2003 MRI indicated an annular tear at L5-S1; a moderate degree of facet arthropathy and degenerative changes at L5-S1; and a mild disc bulge at L4-5. In the "Findings" of the February 2003 MRI, it states as follows: "Examination from 4/29/02 is available and direct comparison is made for all levels in the lumbar spine, specifically L5-S1. There has been no significant interval changes." However, the February 2003 MRI report also indicated a mild diffuse disc bulge present at L3-4 and at L4-5. Although the bulge at L4-5 had been mentioned previously, the bulge at L3-4 wasa new finding. In the April 2002 MRI, no significant abnormalities were found at L3-4. Nevertheless, the mild central canal narrowing at L3-4 was attributed to "bulging discs and facet arthropathy superimposed on congenitally short pedicles," which the Commission interpreted as degenerative.1 The Commission has the duty to use its expertise to determine the soundness of medical evidence and to translate it into findings of fact. Hamilton v. Gregory Trucking, ___ Ark. App. ___, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Mar. 16, 2005).

As substantial evidence supports the decision of the Commission, we affirm.


Gladwin and Baker, JJ., agree.

1 Congenital means "existing at, and usually before birth; referring to conditions that are present at birth, regardless of their causation." The Sloane-Dorland Annotated Medical-Legal Dictionary 160 (1987). Pedicle refers to "a footlike, stemlike, or narrow basal part or structure, as the stalk by which a nonsessile tumor is attached to normal tissue, or the narrow strip of flap tissue through which it receives its blood supply." The Sloane-Dorland Annotated Medical-Legal Dictionary 536 (1987).