SouthernCare Inc. v. Margaret Cowart
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
December 20, 2013
In a unanimous decision, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's decision fully in favor of the plaintiff, awarding permanent total disability benefits under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act.
Margaret Cowart worked as a hospice nurse and suffered several injuries to her lower back, most of which occurred while working in the line and scope of her duties as a nurse; however, one of the events occurred at home. Margaret Cowart was also diagnosed prior to her work-related injury with painful fibromyalgia in the same region of her back.
SouthernCare's appeal was composed of three components. They first argued a lack of substantial evidence to support a decision that Cowart's injury was compensable under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. At trial there were conflicting medical opinions as to what was the cause of Cowart's injury and resulting pain. The Court of Civil Appeals determined that "[t]he medical evidence, although certainly not unequivocally supportive of the conclusion that Cowart's back condition resulted from her work-related accidents, does not serve to completely undermine the circumstantial evidence of medical causation presented to the trial court," and thereby affirmed the decision that Cowart's injury was compensable, and not preexisting.
SouthernCare appealed an interim judgment ordering medical expenses, which was subsumed by the trial court's final order, and was therefore found to be not subject to appeal.
Finally, SouthernCare appealed the trial court's decision to award permanent total disability benefits, and was successful on these grounds. The Court of Civil Appeals noted testimony of a vocational expert who opined that Cowart possessed transferrable skills and Cowart's own testimony that she desired to return to work. The permanent total disability decision was remanded for further determination regarding the extent of disability.