By Courtney S. Paterson

To help our clients stay informed on legal issues affecting their business, Spicer Rudstrom’s attorneys strive to make sense of the complex challenges and recent legal developments in the ever-changing world of workers’ compensation law. Our attorneys summarize the cases handed down in the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board each week, providing insight on the recent legislation as a resource to employers across industries, as well as insurance providers and carriers.

Jason Sanker  v. Nacarato Trucks, Inc., et al.                                 

Docket No. 2016-06-0101
State File No. 72713-2015
Filed July 6, 2016

Posture: 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 medical benefits.

The employee alleged he aggravated a prior work-related lumbar spine condition. The employer argued the employee’s lumbar spine condition did not arise primarily out of his most recent work injury and that his prior employer should be responsible for the employee’s lumbar spine surgery. Following an expedited hearing, the trial court determined the employee suffered a compensable aggravation of his pre-existing condition.

The Appeals Board affirmed the trial court’s decision. The employee’s authorized treating physician, Dr. Elalayli, opined that his current condition was related in part to his pre-existing condition, but his current pain complaints are certainly greater than 50% related to his current injury. The employer sent the employee for an Independent Medical Evaluation with Dr. Gary Stahlman who opined that 75% of the employee’s current issues were pre-existing, and 25% related to the current injury.

The trial court held that Dr. Stalhman’s opinion failed to rebut Dr. Elalayi’s (presumptively correct) opinion. To establish a compensable aggravation as part of the accidental injury, an employee must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employment contributed more than fifty percent to causing the aggravation. In this case, the Appeals Board held that there is expert medical proof that the work accident ‘contributed more than fifty percent (50%)’ in causing the aggravation.

The Appeals Board further held that the pertinent workers’ compensation statute requires trial courts to presume the correctness of an authorized treating physician’s causation opinion. Specifically, “[“[t]he opinion of the treating physician, selected by the employee from the employer’s designated panel of physicians …, shall be presumed correct on the issue of causation but this presumption shall be rebuttable by a preponderance of the evidence.” Tenn.Code Ann. § 50-6-102( 14 )(E) (2015).

The trial court concluded that the Employer did not present sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of correctness given to Dr. Elalayli’s causation opinion. The Appeals Board agreed and found that a trial judge “has the discretion to conclude that the opinion of one expert should be accepted over that of another expert.” Reagan v. Tennplasco, No. M2005-02020-WCR3-CV, 2006 Tenn. LEXIS 1209, at * 10 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. Panel Dec. 27, 2006).

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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