By Courtney S. Paterson
Reginald L. Watson v. Labor Smart, Inc., et al.
Docket No. 2015-06-1358
State File No. 93345-2015
Filed February 3, 2017
This is a case before the Appeals Board on an interlocutory appeal filed by the employer, and the dispute was whether the employer should be required to provide the employee temporary disability benefits.
Reginald Watson (employee) alleged injuries on July 18, 2015, when he fell from the back of a truck while unloading furniture in the course and scope of his employment. He sought treatment the following day at Nashville General Hospital reporting low back pain.
The record of that visit reflects that he denied suffering head trauma. He returned to that same hospital on August 2, 2015, and was diagnosed with a low back strain. Mr. Watson began treating with his own physician, Dr. Jule West, on October 5, 2015, reporting striking his back, hip, and head on the concrete. He complained of severe headaches that interfered with his ability to function.
Testing of Mr. Watson’s head and brain were normal. Dr. West referred him for a neurological exam, where the neurologist concluded that his condition did not require surgery. Mr. Watson returned to Dr. West on April 8, 2016, reporting that he was incapacitated by the headaches. Dr. West opined that he had “severe posttraumatic headache since the time of injury.”
Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court awarded temporary disability benefits. The employer appealed, and within hours of the filing of the appeal, the employee filed a motion in the trial court to alter or amend, asking the court to address the employee’s compensation rate, whether a penalty should be imposed on the employer for not paying benefits in a timely manner, whether his attorney was entitled to attorney’s fees and whether Dr. West should be deemed the authorized treating physician.
Thereafter, the trial court issued an amended order awarding attorney’s fees to Mr. Watson’s attorney. The employer then filed a second notice of appeal. According to the employer, the trial court erred in awarding benefits because the employee failed to present evidence of a causal connection between his headaches and the work injury.
The appeals board affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s decision. Although an injured worker has the burden of proof on every element of his or her claim, at an expedited hearing, an employee need not prove every element by a preponderance of the evidence but must come forward with sufficient evidence from which the trial court can determine that the employee would likely prevail at trial consistent with Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-239(d)(1) (2015).
The burden of proof at an expedited hearing is a lesser evidentiary standard that “does not relieve an employee of the burden of producing evidence of an injury by accident that arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of employment . . ., but allows some relief to be granted if that evidence does not rise to the level of a ‘preponderance of the evidence.’” Buchanan v. Carlex Glass Co., No. 2015-01-0012, 2015 TN Wrk. Comp. App. Bd. LEXIS 39, at *6 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. App. Bd. Sept. 29, 2015).
Based upon the appeals board’s review of the record, they could not conclude that the trial court erred in finding Mr. Watson met this lesser burden of proof in establishing entitlement to temporary disability benefits.
An associate with Spicer Rudstrom since 2009, Courtney focuses her practice on automobile liability, insurance coverage litigation, insurance defense litigation, insurance subrogation, premises liability, products liability, and workers’ compensation. She is admitted to practice in all trial and appellate state courts in Tennessee, as well as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
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