By Jared S. Renfroe

Tracy Payne v. D&D Electric

Docket No. 2014-01-0023

No. E2016-01177-SC-R3-WC.

Filed April 18, 2017

Summary     

This case involves the culmination of several expedited hearings and appeals, and the central issue is whether summary judgment in favor of the employer was appropriate.

Facts

This case is one with an unusual procedural history, and it ultimately went to the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel. The employee, Tracy Payne, alleged that he broke his left foot when he slipped on a flight of stairs in August 2014 while at work.  He received emergency medical treatment, where it was determined that he was a poorly controlled diabetic with a history of medical treatment to both feet for diabetic-related issues. Medical records indicated that he had the appearance of Charcot foot, which is a syndrome in patients who have neuropathy or loss of sensation. That syndrome includes fractures and dislocations of bones and joints that occur with minimal or no known trauma.

Mr. Payne’s employer, D&D Electric, denied his claim on the basis of a lack of medical records confirming that his injury arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of his employment. At the first expedited hearing, the trial court ordered the employer to provide medical benefits to Mr. Payne. Both parties appealed to the Appeals Board, which affirmed the order of the trial court. Mr. Payne was given a panel of physicians and selected an authorized treating physician, who evaluated him and observed that he had a Charcot foot, neuropathic foot and noted that this was likely a preexisting condition that was aggravated by the work injury. The physician stated that it is not likely that the work injury created the whole problem.

At the second expedited hearing, the trial court denied Mr. Payne’s request for additional benefits on the basis that he failed to present an expert medical opinion showing by a preponderance of the evidence that his injury was work-related. The employer moved for summary judgment (MSJ), and the employee did not file a formal response but responded by filing several hundred pages of documents, including articles from medical publications and medical records. In considering the MSJ, the trial court ruled in favor of Mr. Payne, holding that there was genuine issue of material fact as to whether his left foot injury arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of his employment. The court found that while the medical records that he submitted contained no expert medical opinion establishing the requisite causation, the statements in the medical records from the authorized treating physician did not foreclose the possibility that the authorized physician would attribute more than 50 percent of the cause of the injury to the work incident.

The employer appealed to the Appeals Board, which concluded that Mr. Payne had not satisfied his burden to provide medical evidence sufficient to support his claim. As a result, the Board reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the case for entry of an order dismissing the claim. Mr. Payne then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, where the case was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel. The Court carefully reviewed the records that Mr. Payne submitted and noted that he had been previously treated for problems with his left foot and had also received treatment for diabetes-related problems prior to the subject accident. The Court explained that to succeed on his workers’ compensation claim, he had to show to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the aggravation of his preexisting left foot condition arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of his employment.

Although he filed medical records documenting treatment he received for his left foot, the Court noted that he had not submitted medical evidence showing that it was more likely than not that his employment attributed more than 50 percent to his injury. The Court also noted that the authorized treating physician stated only that the workplace accident was at least part of the cause of his problem and that this statement did not establish the requisite causation needed for him to prevail on his claim. Therefore, Mr. Payne had failed to demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that could lead a rational trier of fact to find in his favor. The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims and affirmed the decision of the Appeals Board.

 

Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. His concentrates primarily in premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense and workers’ compensation.

 

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