By Jared S. Renfroe
Samuel Panzarella v. Amazon.com, Inc.
Docket No. 2015-01-0383
State File No. 79681-2015
Filed May 15, 2017
This case was decided by the Appeals Board with a unique procedural history. Ultimately, the trial court declined to award benefits, and the Appeals Board affirmed, due to the employment not contributing more than 50 percent to causing the injury.
The employee, Samuel Panzarella, alleged that he sustained an injury to his knee when he bent down to pick up a piece of paper from the floor and twisted his knee, causing him to fall to his knees. His employer, Amazon.com, Inc., denied the claim as idiopathic. The medical proof established that Mr. Panzarella had pre-existing chronic pain in his right ankle, and he was overweight, which could be a factor in contributing to the fall.
After the initial hearing, the trial court entered an order setting deadlines, including a deadline to file a request for an expedited hearing. Subsequently, after the deadline had passed, the court entered a scheduling order and noted that Mr. Panzarella did not want an expedited hearing and also noted his readiness to proceed with a “real trial.”
The trial court conducted a hearing but subsequently entered an interlocutory order awarding disability and medical benefits, as if the hearing was an expedited hearing, finding that the employee was likely to prevail at a hearing on the merits. However, the court stated that the disputed issue of permanent disability was not yet ripe, so it could not consider the hearing as a compensation hearing.
The Appeals Board vacated the order and remanded the case for entry of a compensation hearing order. However, the trial court then issued an order denying his requested benefits, finding that he had not established his entitlement to benefits by a preponderance of the evidence. Mr. Panzarella appealed.
The Appeals Board stated that it does not conclude that a physician must use particular words or phrases included in the statutory definition of “injury” to establish the required medical proof to succeed at trial, and thus, a physician may render an opinion that meets the legal standard without couching the opinion in a rigid recitation of the statutory definition.
However, it did note that it is necessary to offer sufficient proof from which the trial court can conclude the statutory requirements of TCA 50-6-102(14) are satisfied. Although the injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment, the employee failed to establish that his employment contributed more than 50 percent in causing the injury, considering all causes, and thus, the Appeals Board affirmed the order declining benefits.
Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. He concentrates primarily on premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense, and workers’ compensation.
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