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Case Reviews

ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS REVERSES ORDER GRANTING NEW TRIAL IN AUTO ACCIDENT TRIAL

Valerie A. Taylor
v.
Lindsey V. Wheeler
December 16, 2016

Plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car wreck whereby defendant’s car struck the rear end of plaintiff’s car allegedly causing plaintiff to suffer personal injury. Defendant asserted the defense of sudden emergency, and claimed that she did not have enough time to stop her car before colliding with plaintiff’s car. A jury trial was conducted and verdict was returned in favor of the defendant. Plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial which was granted, and defendant appealed.

The parties gave conflicting testimony with regards to the events leading up to the car wreck. Plaintiff did not clearly remember the accident, but testified that she was in a heavy amount of traffic, and that she was completely stopped when the car wreck occurred. Defendant testified in her deposition that plaintiff was stopped when she saw her break lights, but testified in trial that the plaintiff stopped in an emergency fashion.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals determined that there was enough evidence to support the jury’s determination of fact that defendant had not engaged in negligent conduct, and determined that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial. The trial court’s order granting a new trial was reversed.


ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS AFFIRMS DENIAL OF MOTION TO INTERVENE
RGIS Inventory Specialists, et al.
v.
George Allen Huey, et al.
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
December 16, 2016

George Allen Huey, the employee, was injured in a car wreck in Alabama while travelling from Mississippi to Tennessee. Employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits in Mississippi, which was denied. Employee appealed that decision with the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission. Employee filed a third party civil suit for damages in Alabama resulting from the car wreck.

RGIS Inventory Specialists, the employer, and the workers’ compensation carrier filed a motion to intervene in the Alabama action to determine their subrogation rights, or the amount of any setoff which could be applied to their liability for workers’ compensation benefits. The Alabama trial court denied the motion to intervene. Employee then settled his car wreck claim, and the employer and the carrier appealed the trial court’s decision to deny their motion to intervene.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals opined that the employer and workers’ compensation carrier had filed a valid appeal, as their motion to intervene was denied before the employee settled his car wreck claim. However, in their appellate brief, the employer and the workers’ compensation carrier failed to cite any Alabama law, and relied only on Mississippi statute. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals determined that such a brief has no merit in the Alabama appellate courts, and that the employer and workers’ compensation carrier had waived their argument. Trial court’s order was affirmed.

ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS AFFIRMS DEATH BENEFITS FOR TRAVELLING EMPLOYEE
Hospice Family Care v. Allen
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
June 10, 2016

Employee was a hospice nurse, who traveled to her patients’ home regularly as part of her job duties. At the end of each work day, employee was required to enter patient notes into a database with her laptop computer, which required around two hours time to complete. Hospice Family Care provided their employees with laptop computers and cell phones in order to complete this work from a remote location. Hospice Family Care even advised their nurses that they should avoid coming into the Hospice Family Care facility after hours due to the dangerous neighborhood surrounding the facility.

Employee was traveling home after visiting with patients and was involved in a motor vehicle accident, which resulted in employee’s death. Employee’s spouse brought a claim for workers’ compensation benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court determined that the employee was acting in the line and scope of her duties as an employee. Defendant appealed on the grounds that the employee was heading home, citing the “coming and going” rule, which generally bars claims for workers’ compensation benefits when an employee is injured while heading to and from work.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals agreed with the trial court. Although the employee was heading home, her work-day had not ended. She regularly spent two hours working at home entering her patient data from the day. She was a travelling employee, and was heading home to complete her duties. The fact that she stopped at the pharmacy on the way home was not a substantial deviation from her employment duties. Judgment was affirmed.


ORDER COMPELLING DEFENDANT TO PROVIDE MEDICAL TREATMENT, AND FOR PLAINTIFF TO UNDERGO MENTAL EXAMINATION SET ASIDE BY THE ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS
Ex parte Tidra Corporation
(In re: Johnson v. Tidra Corporation)
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
October 7, 2016

Plaintiff, acting pro se, alleged to have suffered a work-related injury, and filed a motion to compel defendant to provide medical treatment pursuant to the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court conducted a hearing on plaintiff’s motion, but did not hear oral argument or witness testimony. Plaintiff provided documentary evidence in support of his motion. Defendant provided competing documentary evidence that they were not responsible for the medical treatment requested, as it did not appear to be connected with plaintiff’s alleged work-related injury. Based on the pleadings, and the parties’ motions, there existed a genuine issue of material fact. The trial court set a second hearing for oral argument and testimony at a later date.

Prior to a hearing on the merits of plaintiff’s requested relief, the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion for medical treatment pursuant to the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court also ordered plaintiff to undergo a mental examination. Defendant requested appellate review of the trial court’s order with a writ of mandamus.

Rule 35(a) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure provide for a court to order a party to undergo a mental evaluation only upon motion of a party to the action. No such motion was before the court. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama ruled that a trial court cannot order a mental evaluation in a civil matter on its own initiative. Such is permissible in a criminal matter, but not a civil matter.

Citing Ex Parte Publix Supermarkets, Inc. 963 So.2d 654 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007), the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama found that the trial court had not conducted the prerequisite evidentiary hearing in order to find the defendant responsible for providing medical benefits to the plaintiff under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court was instructed to set aside its order in its entirety.


ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS AFFIRMS ENTRY OF SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENIAL OF SPOLIATION OF EVIDENCE IN ALABAMA SLIP AND FALL INJURY CLAIM
Russell v. East Alabama Medical Center
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
August 21, 2015

Plaintiff tripped and fell on a rug placed at the doorway of the East Alabama Medical Center. Plaintiff claimed the rug created a dangerous condition which lead to her personal injury.

Plaintiff testified that while entering the East Alabama Medical Center, she did not notice any dangerous condition in the rug. Plaintiff’s family members testified that they did not see plaintiff fall, but that one of them noticed a lump in the rug. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Prior to the trial court’s decision on defendant’s motion for summary judgment, plaintiff requested leave to argue a matter of spoliation of evidence. East Alabama Medical Center employed the use of several surveillance cameras around their premises, one of which was focused on the entryway where plaintiff claimed to have suffered her injury. Plaintiff did not request the recording data until 11 months after her alleged injury. East Alabama Medical Center offered testimony that in their regular course of business, surveillance data is deleted after approximately 40 days. The trial court determined that the defendant did not engage in spoliation of evidence. In affirming the trial court’s decision, The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama noted that plaintiff failed to provide any authority that a property owner is required to preserve surveillance data simply because of an injury occurring on their property.

The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama noted that plaintiff failed to provide any evidence that East Alabama Medical Center knew or should have known that the condition of the rug was in a dangerous condition. East Alabama Medical Center provided evidence that they did not know about the condition of the rug. Citing prior case law, and because plaintiff failed to provide any substantial evidence that the defendant knew or should have known about a dangerous condition with the rug, The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama affirmed the trial court’s rulings.


APPELLATE COURT AFFIRMS CONTEMPT SANCTIONS FOR EMPLOYER’S FAILURE TO PROVIDE MEDICAL CARE AFTER SETTLEMENT OF ALABAMA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIM
Augmentation, Inc. v. Harris
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
September 23, 2016
No. 2150307

Plaintiff settled her claim for compensation benefits in 2014 resulting from a work-related injury to her neck and back, but left open her medical benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. After her settlement, she began having difficulty getting her continual medical care approved by the workers’ compensation carrier. She went a year without approval for medical treatment, and filed a motion to hold her employer in contempt for failure to authorize, approve and pay for medical treatment prescribed by her authorized treating physician.

The trial court held two evidentiary hearings, and after testimony of the plaintiff and her treating physician by deposition transcript, found her employer in contempt and awarded attorney’s fees, costs and expenses. At the evidentiary hearings, the employer did not present any witnesses, only documentary evidence supporting their position.

The employer appealed on the grounds that the trial court did not allow for meaningful discovery, and that the court did not conduct a trial on the merits of the issue, and that the trial court abused its discretion finding that the employer’s refusal to pay for medical treatment was willful.

In affirming the trial court’s decision, The Court of Appeals of Alabama noted that the trial court conducted two evidentiary hearings, and that the employer failed to take advantage of those opportunities by submitting only documentary evidence, and no witness testimony.

Plaintiff filed a motion to conduct discovery, which was granted, but the employer did not file a similar motion. The employer instead requested leave to conduct depositions, but the record on appeal did not reflect whether the trial court granted or denied the employer’s request. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals declined to overturn the trial court’s decision on the discovery issue, as the record on appeal was incomplete.

The trial court found that the employer failed to provide a valid reason at the time of the decision to deny payment of medical benefits. The employer failed to participate in a utilization review program, and they did not seek judicial review of the dispute before refusing to pay for plaintiff’s treatment. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the employer’s refusal was willful, as it was supported by substantial evidence. Judgment was affirmed.


APPELLATE COURT DETERMINES PLAINITFF’S MILEAGE REIMBURSEMENT UNDER THE ALABAMA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT MUST BE REASONABLE AND NECESSARY
PAGE v. SOUTHERN CARE
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
September 16, 2016
No. 2150451

Plaintiff was injured in a work-related accident and settled a claim for workers’ compensation benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act that left open her right to future medical benefits. Plaintiff thereafter took a job with a different employer that required her to work out-of-state. However, plaintiff returned to her home in Gadsden, Alabama every weekend.

Plaintiff’s authorized treating physician was in Hoover, Alabama and her pharmacy was near her home in Hope’s Bluff, Alabama. Plaintiff’s appeal arises from a dispute over mileage reimbursement benefits. Plaintiff submitted for reimbursement 13,912 miles of travel, which was accrued by measuring her travel distance commencing from her out-of-state employment. Had she measured her trips from her home in Gadsden, Alabama, she would have accrued only 985 miles. The trial court awarded reimbursement based on her trips as if they had commenced from her home in Gadsden, Alabama, and not her actual mileage from her out-of-state worksites.

The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act is not specific on where an injured worker must commence travel to a treating physician. However, the Alabama Workers’ Compensation act does include language that the employer is only required to pay for medical treatment that is reasonable and necessary. The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama construed the legislative intent of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to include a reasonable and necessary element to the mileage reimbursement provision. Plaintiff’s treating physician and pharmacy were selected due to the proximity to her home in Gadsden, Alabama. Plaintiff never requested a new treating physician or pharmacy near her out-of-state work locations. Plaintiff traveled home every weekend anyway, and the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama agreed with the trial court that the excessive travel for medical treatment providers was neither reasonable nor necessary. Judgment was affirmed.


Ex Parte Lucas
(In re: Mckee v. Lucas)
Supreme Court of Alabama
No. 1150382
June 10, 2016

This matter was heard on a petition for writ of mandamus regarding a motion for summary judgment filed in the Circuit Court of Shelby County. Normally, a denial of motion for summary judgment it not subject to mandamus review. However, this matter presented itself as one of the limited exceptions for mandamus review of a summary judgment: when a summary judgment was denied on the relation back principle of fictitious party pleading.

McKee was involved in a car wreck in Shelby County, Alabama which involved two collisions. She was rear-ended, and then the car behind her was rear-ended causing that car to strike McKee’s car a second time.

McKee timely filed a complaint naming the driver of the car behind her, and included a fictitious defendant referencing the driver of the third car that struck the car behind McKee. That third car was operated by Lucas. McKee did not amend her complaint to name Lucas until after the two-year statute of limitations had run, and Lucas filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that McKee had not exercised due diligence in identifying Lucas as a party defendant, which the trial court denied.

The responding police officer generated two separate accident reports, and provided McKee with the report number for only the first car accident, which McKee obtained from the Pelham Police Department. McKee made no other attempts to identify Lucas prior to filing a complaint.

Lucas’s motion for summary judgment noted that the second police report was available within a few days of the accident, and had McKee performed her due diligence, she would have been able to identify Lucas as a defendant well before the statute of limitations had expired. The Supreme Court of Alabama agreed, citing prior case law, that when a government record is generated and available to the public, McKee was afforded adequate opportunity to identify Lucas as a defendant. The Supreme Court of Alabama did not agree with McKee that her delay was the responding law enforcement officer’s fault for only providing the reference number for the first collision. McKee could have requested any report involving her automobile, or the car behind her. The relation back principle of fictitious pleading is only available when the plaintiff is unaware of the identity of the defendant, and has exercised due diligence in discovering the identity of an unknown defendant.


Kennamer Brothers, Inc. v. Stewart
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
September 9, 2016
No. 2150359

Stewart was employed by Kennamer Brothers as a truck driver and suffered an injury to his shoulder in an auto accident that was found by the trial court to be compensable under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.

Kennamer Brothers appealed the determination that Stewart’s injury was compensable, and the amount of retroactive Temporary Total Disability benefits awarded to Stewart. Judgment was affirmed in part and remanded in part.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found that the trial court’s ruling was based on substantial evidence. Stewart did not report his shoulder injury until 5 months after the date of his injury. Stewart suffered from injuries to other parts of his body, and was taking prescribed pain medicine for those other injuries.

Stewart consulted multiple physicians for his various injuries, and ultimately had an MRI performed that revealed a shoulder tear. Stewart’s physician testified that the tear was consistent with an accident such as Stewart’s, and that although a shoulder tear is typically associated with immediate complaints of pain, it is possible that the prescription pain medication could have initially masked the nature and extent of Stewart’s shoulder pain.

In affirming the trial court’s ruling that Stewart’s injury was work-related, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals noted that Kennamer Brothers failed to offer any alternative explanation for how Stewart could have suffered his shoulder injury. Stewart testified at trial that he had not suffered any additional injury to his shoulder. The Court of Civil Appeals deferred to the judgment of the trial court’s determination of fact, which had the benefit of weighing the evidence at trial.

Also at issue, was the amount of Temporary Total Disability benefits awarder to Stewart, which was the maximum amount available from the time he stopped receiving payments, through the time that he was able to find suitable replacement employment. The trial court erred in increasing the maximum amount payable during a subsequent calendar year when the statutory minimum increased. Temporary Total Benefits were determined to be fixed at the time of the date of Stewart’s injury.


Larry Magrinat v. Myra Maddox
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama
August 26, 2016
No. 2150357

Magrinat and Maddox were involved in an automobile collision in Lee County, Alabama. Plaintiff incurred certain medical expenses resulting from injuries sustained as a result of Defendant’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Plaintiff was without medical insurance, and received medical care from Dr. Davis Buggay for an injury to Plaintiff’s arm. Plaintiff would owe a debt to Dr. Buggay for the surgery of $9,281.

Dr. Buggay sold the debt of $9,281 for $3,000 to a third-party organization, OrthoUSA, who invested in the debt, with the intention of recovering the full balance from Plaintiff. The case was tried by bench trial in Lee County, and plaintiff was awarded only the $3,000 paid to Dr. Buggay in compensatory damages resulting from the medical expense incurred from medical treatment rendered. Plaintiff appealed the judgment based on a matter of law that he was entitled to the full balance of his medical expense, which was then owed to OrthoUSA.

Defendant argued that plaintiff is not entitled to the full balance, but only what was actually paid to the treating physician, which is normally the case when insurance providers, or Medicare, negotiate a discounted rate to pay a treating physician. In those situations, Plaintiff is only required to reimburse their insurance provider, or Medicare, what was paid, not what was charged. However, there is a distinction here, that although the treating physician was paid a discounted rate, OrthoUSA intended on collecting the full balance from Plaintiff.

This was a matter of first impression in the State of Alabama, and the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals gave a specific ruling as follows: “when a third party purchases a medical provider's debt but the injured party who was treated remains responsible and liable for that debt in full, the injured party is entitled to recover as damages the amount the injured party owes, to the extent it is reasonable and necessary; the injured party is not limited to recovering the amount the medical provider agreed to accept from the third-party purchaser of that debt.”

The judgment was remanded to the Lee County Circuit Court with instructions to modify plaintiff’s compensatory damages in accordance with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals’ ruling.


Ex parte Lincare Inc. and Angela Stewart
(In re: Sandra Martin v. Lincare Inc. and Angela Stewart)
Supreme Court of Alabama
August 19, 2016
No. 1141373

Plaintiff worked for Lincare, Inc. Her supervisor was Angela Stewart. Plaintiff tendered resignation of her employment with Lincare, and during such, a physical altercation arose, wherein Plaintiff claims to have been assaulted by her supervisor, suffering broken fingers, and damage to her neck and arm.

Plaintiff brought claims against her employer for benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act, as well as tort claims against her employer and her supervisor of assault and battery, and outrage. Plaintiff demanded trial by jury on “all issues triable by jury.” Defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s jury demand, and plaintiff’s tort claims. The trial court did not dismiss any of plaintiff’s tort claims, and did not grant defendants’ motion to strike plaintiff’s jury demand regarding her tort claims.

Plaintiff argued that her employment relationship with Lincare had ceased, because she had resigned prior to her injury. The Supreme Court of Alabama found that plaintiff was in an employment relationship with Lincare, and that her injuries were work-related despite the fact that she had resigned immediately before her injury, citing prior case law that an employee is afforded a reasonable time to exit the premises before the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act loses effect. For that reason, plaintiff’s tort claims against her employer were barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Act outlined in Sec 25-5-11, Ala. Code 1975.

Plaintiff’s supervisor filed with the trial court a motion to dismiss for plaintiff’s failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Supreme Court of Alabama did not dismiss plaintiff’s claims against her supervisor, drawing a distinction on mandamus review between a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and a motion to dismiss based on exclusivity provisions of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. The Alabama Supreme Court found that a writ of mandamus is not the appropriate mechanism for appellate review of a trial court decision to deny a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant cited case law finding that a writ of mandamus is appropriate for review of a trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss based on immunity provisions of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act, but no case law regarding a denial based on failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Alabama Supreme Court did not comment on whether plaintiff’s claims against her supervisor were appropriate under the intentional conduct provisions of Ala. Code Sec. 25-5-11.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for a jury trial, citing a waiver signed by plaintiff denying a jury trial with regards to any claim brought against her employer, Lincare. The Alabama Supreme Court declined to dismiss plaintiff’s jury demand against her supervisor for two reasons: 1) The right to a jury trial is a fundamental aspect of the Alabama legal system, and 2) the waiver of jury trial was not intended to extend to her supervisor as an intended third party beneficiary. Plaintiff’s tort claims against Lincare had already been dismissed by the Alabama Supreme Court, and so the issue of jury trial was thereby rendered moot.


Smith v. Brett/Robinson Construction Company, Inc.
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
July 22, 2016
No. 2150245

Plaintiff worked for defendant as a construction supervisor, and reported an injury to her knee when she tripped and fell at work. Plaintiff’s case was tried in the Circuit Court of Baldwin County, Alabama, wherein she claimed to have suffered a torn meniscus. Plaintiff’s accident occurred in May, 2013. Approximately six weeks thereafter, plaintiff’s Authorized Treating Physician performed an investigative arthroscopic procedure to determine if there was a tear in her meniscus. Plaintiff’s doctor determined that the meniscus was intact, but that there was the presence of arthritis that appeared to be degenerative in nature.

Plaintiff requested a second opinion, and in October, 2013 plaintiff was the subject of an MRI procedure that did reveal the possibility of a torn meniscus, along with the previously identified arthritis. Plaintiff’s second doctor opined that the arthritis existed prior to her workers’ compensation related injury, but that the injury potentially exacerbated her arthritic condition.

Plaintiff’s co-workers testified that she appeared not to be suffering any detrimental effects resulting from her knee prior to her injury, but that she did appear to limp, and be in pain after her injury. One of plaintiff’s co-workers also testified that, after her injury in May, 2013, but before her second MRI, they witnessed plaintiff appear to have a second injury to her knee while in the employee break room, whereby plaintiff reported to have heard a “pop” and subsequent pain in her knee. Plaintiff reported this injury to her second treating physician, but did not report it as a work-related injury to her supervisors.

With regards to her initial injury, the trial court found that it did not result in a torn meniscus. Plaintiff was assigned a 50% impairment to her lower extremity, and plaintiff appealed the trial court’s judgment that the presence of a torn meniscus was not connected to her work related injury suffered in May, 2013.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, finding that it was supported by the substantial evidence of witness testimony, medical records and the commentary of both of her treating physicians. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals cited ample case law supporting that when a trial court’s findings are supported by substantial evidence, the appellate courts will not re-try the facts. Judgment was affirmed.

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