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ARC: OPIOID ABUSE AND WORKERS COMPENSATION: TACKLING A GROWING PROBLEM

Medication contributes to nurse's permanent total disability: Court

JACKSON, Tenn.—A cocktail of narcotic pain and psychiatric medications prescribed to an injured nurse contributes to her permanent total disability because they hinder her ability to work, a panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled this week.

Vonetta Mousseau slipped and fell while working as a nurse for Davita Inc. in 2007. The accident left Ms. Mousseau with an injured neck and back, and she underwent two surgeries to alleviate pain, numbness and other symptoms related to her fall.

Ms. Mousseau later was arrested for driving under the influence while taking her son to school. She testified that her driving was impaired by a combination of medications prescribed to manage pain and depression that were caused by her work accident. Those included the opioids Percocet and methadone, antidepressant and antianxiety pills, a muscle relaxer and an antiseizure medication.

Dr. Timothy Schoettle, a neurosurgeon who treated Ms. Mousseau, said she could not return to work as a registered nurse because of her neurological symptoms and drowsiness caused by her medications. He also said she was unable to perform sedentary work because he was “concerned about (Employee's) capability of functioning and making important decisions while on that type of medication.”

A chancery court ruled that Ms. Mousseau should receive PTD benefits based on her and Dr. Schoettle's testimony. Davita appealed, saying Ms. Mousseau's benefits should be capped, partly because she did not attempt to return to work at Davita or seek employment elsewhere since the 2007 accident.

The Tennessee Supreme Court's workers compensation panel unanimously upheld the PTD award on Tuesday. It said Dr. Schoettle's testimony about Ms. Mousseau's physical limitations and the side effects of her medications were the "only medical proof" of Ms. Mousseau's impaired work capabilities.

"The uncontradicted lay and medical testimony was that Employee has a substantial limitation upon her cognitive and analytical abilities due to the effects of the many medications required to manage her ongoing pain, neurological symptoms, and depression," the decision reads.

The panel also noted that Davita had no jobs that would have met Ms. Mousseau's physical limitations.

For in-depth coverage of this topic and related issues, visit our Solution Arc on Opioid Abuse and Workers Compensation: Tackling a Growing Problem.

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