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A nurse’s back injuries she said began when she felt a “pop” while pushing a medicine cart are not compensable, the Mississippi Supreme Court held Thursday.
In Jones v. Mississippi Baptist Health Systems Inc., the court overturned an appellate court ruling in a 5-3 decision after determining that the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission had sufficient evidence that the nurse’s pain did not stem from a workplace injury.
Angela Jones worked as a registered nurse at Baptist Hospital. In March 2015 near the end of her shift, she said she felt a “pop” in her right lower back as she pushed a medicine cart. She declined medical attention that day and completed her shift. Under the hospital’s policies, employees were required to report any injuries to the hospital’s risk management system and were trained on how to use the system.
The Monday following her accident, Ms. Jones emailed her supervisor, telling her about the “pop” in her lower back and that she as now experiencing trouble with her right hip and had pain radiating down that leg. She sought medical treatment but did not report lower-back pain and did not answer the questions about whether the pain was related to an injury and the date and cause of any associated injuries.
An MRI found a herniated disc and a medical report said that Ms. Jones had suffered from low back pain for about six years. In October 2015, she emailed the hospital indicating that her injuries were related to pushing a medicine cart during her nursing shift. Her then-physician testified that her diagnosis was “not causally related to her alleged work incident” in March and that her pain was “multifactual” with disc disease, morbid obesity and inactivity all contributing to the pain. He also stated that he found no evidence in the MRI of an acute event to support her work-related injury charge.
An administrative law judge found that her injury was work-related and compensable, but the Mississippi Workers Compensation Commission reversed that decision, and a Mississippi appellate court reversed again, holding that Ms. Jones’ injury was compensable. Baptist sought review from the Mississippi Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
The state’s high court reversed the appellate court decision, reinstating the commission’s decision that Ms. Jones’ injury was not compensable.
The court noted that the commission-based its decision on the opinion of treating physicians and Ms. Jones’ repeated failure to report a specific work-related injury to either her health care providers or Baptist. The commission further noted that Ms. Jones indicated to her doctor that she had suffered from back pain for years and made no mention that the injury was work-related until seven months after the alleged injury had occurred.
Judge James Kitchens wrote in his dissent that he believed the majority erred in dismissing Ms. Jones’ own testimony about her workplace injury, which was witnessed and corroborated by her co-worker. The majority also “disregarded the evidence” of Ms. Jones’ email to her supervisor reporting the “pop” in her back and the associated leg pain, he said.
“The Commission was arbitrary and capricious for discounting Jones's credibility,” he wrote, stating that “evidently, the commission believed that (Ms.) Jones had lied about having hurt her back while pushing the medical cart.”
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