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Worker entitled to more medical treatment despite surveillance video

Lifting boxes

A Walmart employee is entitled to additional medical treatment for an injured arm despite video surveillance showing the man using the same arm for heavy labor, an Arkansas appellate court held Wednesday.

In Wal-Mart Associates Inc. v. Ellis, a three-judge panel of the Arkansas Court of Appeals in Little Rock unanimously affirmed a decision by the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission granting the worker additional medical treatment.

Donald Ellis ruptured his right biceps tendon while unloading a truck for his employer, Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart Inc., on Feb. 1, 2016. He received surgery to repair the tear and physical therapy. At the end of 2016, an MRI revealed that the biceps tendon had reruptured, and a second surgery was performed.

Mr. Ellis had two medical examinations in May and June 2017. Both physicians suggested that Mr. Ellis could be suffering from complex regional pain syndrome and recommended further treatment. He had reported to the physicians that he was unable to use his arm, and one of the physicians noted that Mr. Ellis was unable to shake hands and grimaced whenever he moved his elbow.

Surveillance of Mr. Ellis a week after his second visit showed Mr. Ellis chopping brush outside with a machete and an ax, lifting a pop-up camper, using a pressure washer, moving a small washer and dryer, opening and closing car doors and carrying various items.

However, an administrative law judge held that Mr. Ellis had proved that additional medical treatment was reasonable and necessary, and the commission affirmed the decision.

Walmart appealed, arguing that substantial evidence does not support the commission’s findings.

Mr. Ellis testified that he had experienced nerve pain and a burning sensation in his arm, and said the pain level and symptoms varied substantially from day to day, and said the surveillance caught him on a good day, but that he had been “foolhardy” and just trying to help his ill sister.

Although Walmart argued that the surveillance video when combined with doctors’ reports undermined Mr. Ellis’ credibility, the appellate court credited the medical records and Mr. Ellis’ testimony that he had good and bad days, and found that the diagnosis of CRPS was not based on his ability to use his arm day to day, but instead on symptoms of swelling, discoloration and sweating.

As a result, the appellate court held that there was substantial evidence to support the commission’s award of additional medical treatment to Mr. Ellis.

Neither attorney in the case immediately responded to requests for comment.

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