Permanent Award of Workers' Compensation Total Disability Benefits Reversed in Jefferson County, Alabama

The employee in this case worked for Goodyear Tire and suffered a right leg injury during the course of employment. The court awarded the employee permanent total disability benefits. The Court of Civil Appeals ordered the trial court to determine if the injury was a scheduled member injury or an exception applied to the worker.

The trial court amended the award and stated that the employee’s right knee injury should be compensated as an injury outside the schedule because the injury extended to other parts of his body and interfered with their efficiency.

The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court’s order.

The appellate court ruled that, “If the effects of a loss of a member extend to other parts of the body and interfere with their efficiency, the employee can be awarded benefits outside of the schedule set forth in Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-57.”

The employee testified that he twisted his knee while descending a flight of stairs and he tore his meniscus. The employee testified that he had suffered a lower back injury as a result of a car accident in 1978. Before his knee injury, he was able to alleviate his back pain with over-the-counter analgesics. Since the knee injury, the employee could no longer work as a mechanic and the court determined that there was a causal connection.

The injury was surgically repaired and his treating physician gave the employee an eight percent 8% medical impairment rating to the body as a whole. The doctor did not provide any testimony as to whether or how the effects of the injury extended to other parts of the employee’s body.

The doctor did place restrictions on the employee. An injury cannot be taken outside of the schedule merely because the employee was given work restrictions. The Court acknowledged that although there was an absence of medical testimony to support the trial court’s conclusions, the court could rely on lay and circumstantial evidence.

The Court of Civil Appeals, however, noted that the employee did not present any evidence that the symptoms of his back injury had worsened as a result of his knee injury. While it was true that the employee could no longer work as an automobile technician, this was due to the work restrictions placed on him, not because of any alleged aggravation of his preexisting back problem. Neither the employee nor any other witnesses testified to any facts that could reasonably imply that the employee’s right knee injury affected any other parts of his body. The judgment of the trial court is due to be reversed.

Anytime an employee is injured on the job, the case should be evaluated for future vocational benefits of the worker. In this case the worker is not going to be able to continue in his present job. He may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation training benefits as part of a settlement. The good news to take away from this case is that the lawyer fought hard for his client in court.

Always ask your workers’ compensation lawyer if he intends to file a lawsuit or just work the case with the insurance company.

Please feel free to call if you or someone you know is inured on the job.

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