Jonathan Engler v. Able Moving Company, Et Al. W2016-02125-SC-R3-WC (Oct. 30, 2017)
In this case, the employee injured his back as a result of lifting a piano and boxes of books while working for the employer, a local family-owned moving company. The employee was actually the son of the owner of the company. The employer accepted the compensability of the low back strain, but the employee also alleged that he developed a staph infection as a result of the injury, and was hospitalized for a week and subsequently received continued treatment for six weeks. The employer denied the compensability of the staph infection.
Six physicians provided opinions regarding the causation of the staph infection, and five of the physicians testified. The employee’s primary care physician, Dr. Carey Finn, and an infectious disease physician, Dr. William Mason, who treated him while hospitalized testified that the employee’s back strain caused myositis (inflammation or swelling of muscles) in the low back, which provided the perfect storm that seeded into the staph infection.
While both of these physicians admitted that diabetes is a significant risk factor for staph infections, they minimized the fact that the employee was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes at the time he was hospitalized for the staph infection.
The employer offered the testimony of two neurosurgeons, Dr. John Brophy and Dr. Fereidoon Parsioon, as well as Dr. Michael Gelfand, an infectious disease physician. Dr. Brophy was the authorized treating physician for the back injury, but he also opined that the staph infection actually caused the myositis in the low back and that it was due to the employee’s diabetes. Dr. Parsioon essentially agreed with Dr. Brophy and noted that no source of the infection or the origin of the sepsis was ever confirmed.
Dr. Gelfand’s testified that the relationship between trauma such as lifting and a staph infection is highly speculative and not generally supported by medical literature. Furthermore, he emphasized the fact that diabetes is a very significant factor in developing a staph infection.
After the Compensation Hearing, the trial court held in favor of the employer, and the employee appealed directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Panel noted that Dr. Brophy’s opinion was entitled to a statutory presumption of correctness, but also highlighted that his opinion was supported by the testimony of Dr. Parsioon and Dr. Gelfand.
The Panel concluded that although the staph infection was possibly related to his work-related back injury, evidence establishing a mere possibility is insufficient to establish causation. Thus, the Panel concluded that the employee failed to prove that his staph infection arose primarily out of and in the course and scope of his employment, and the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed and adopted the Panel’s decision.
Jared Renfroe focuses on Workers’ Compensation, Premises Liability, and Litigation in the Memphis office. Jared has been honored as a recipient of the Mid-South Super Lawyers Rising Stars award in 2016 and 2017, a distinction that is given to no more than 2.5% of attorneys in Tennessee, for his Workers’ Compensation practice.