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An appellate court affirmed the award of workers compensation benefits to an appliance repair technician injured in a vehicle accident, while acknowledging discrepancies between his account of the incident and that of the other driver.
In Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Brown, a three-judge panel of the Arkansas Court of Appeals, Division I in Little Rock on Wednesday unanimously affirmed an Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission’s finding that a man’s shoulder and cervical spine injuries were compensable.
About three months after Dale Brown began working for Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears Roebuck & Co. as an appliance repair technician, he was involved in a car accident while driving a company van from one job to another. He claimed he was rear-ended by a woman driving about 30 miles per hour. The other driver reported that she was at a complete stop when Mr. Brown backed into her car. She also provided the police with the name and phone number of an alleged witness who could confirm her account of the events. The Sears van required approximately $2,000 of repairs to its bumper; little damage to the other vehicle was noted on the police report.
Several days after the accident, Mr. Brown sought care from his family physician, stating that the impact of the accident threw his body forward and hurt his neck. He continued to receive care for several months and had an MRI in late 2015 on his cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, which revealed bleeding around the spinal cord. An orthopedic surgeon who conducted an independent medical exam said he could not definitively answer whether the trauma of the car accident caused Mr. Brown’s spine issues. Mr. Brown also sought treatment for shoulder issues that he said stemmed from having his hands on the wheel during the accident, and sought surgery for both his spine and shoulder.
An administrative law judge found that Mr. Brown’s cervical spine and left-shoulder injuries were compensable as a result of the accident. He found that Mr. Brown failed to meet his burden of proof relating to his lumbar spine injury.
The Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission affirmed the decision and Sears appealed, arguing that there was no substantial evidence to support Mr. Brown’s claim that the other driver was traveling 30 miles per hour at the time of the accident. Although the commission noted that neither Mr. Brown nor the other driver was “lying, there is no independent evidence in the record to suggest which driver was lying … Without more, we find the objective medical evidence supports” Mr. Brown’s version of events.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. The court said that because the credibility of witnesses is “the province of the Commission” to determine, it could find no error. Sears also argued that the physicians relied on Mr. Brown’s “speculative version” of the speed of the accident in basing their medical opinions and that as a result, their opinions could not be substantiated, but the appellate court disagreed.
“To require medical proof of causation in every case appears out of line with the general policy of economy and efficiency contained within the workers' compensation law,” said the appellate court. “Although our court may have made different findings, it is the commission's duty rather than ours to make credibility determinations, to weigh the evidence, and to resolve conflicts in medical opinions, evidence, and testimony.”
The Arkansas Senate is considering a bill that would establish an optional alternative system outside of the state’s workers compensation system to finance and administer benefits for injured workers.