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Union Drilling, Inc. v. Griffith

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

April 29, 2015

UNION DRILLING, INC. AND CHARTIS APPELLANTS
v.
JUSTIN GRIFFITH, SECOND INJURY FUND, AND DEATH & PERMANENT TOTAL DISABILITY TRUST FUND APPELLEES

APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. F612080]

Worley, Wood & Parrish, P.A., Melissa Wood, for appellants.

Tolley & Brooks, P.A., Evelyn E. Brooks, for appellee.

RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge.

Union Drilling, Inc. and Chartis appeal an October 15, 2014 opinion by the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission ("the Commission") affirming and adopting the findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in favor of Justin Griffith. On appeal, Union Drilling contends that substantial evidence does not exist to support the Commission's decision that Griffith proved (1) that he is entitled to additional medical treatment and (2) that he is entitled to additional temporary-total-disability benefits. Because the Commission's decision was supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.

On October 9, 2006, while he was performing a task known as "tripping pipe" at work at Union Drilling, Griffith sustained a compensable back injury that was accepted by the appellants. On October 20, 2011, the ALJ issued an opinion that ordered Union Drilling and Chartis to bear the burden of the reasonable and necessary medical treatment recommended by Dr. James B. Blankenship. At that time, part of the recommended treatment by Dr. Blankenship was epidural injections to be administered by Dr. David Cannon. That opinion was affirmed and adopted by the Full Commission on February 2, 2012.

In May 2012, Dr. Blankenship again recommended injections by Dr. Cannon. On September 6, 2012, Griffith had an office visit with Dr. Blankenship, and the doctor issued an excuse slip, which indicated that Griffith was to remain off work. On November 1, 2012, Griffith received a lumbar epidural injection under fluoroscopy at L5-S1 from Dr. Cannon.

On January 17, 2013, Griffith was seen at the Neurosurgery Spine Center by Dr. Blankenship's Advanced Practice Nurse (APN), Rhonda Findley, who noted "the injection actually gave him about 80% relief but the last couple of weeks he has noticed that his pain is returning and now only has about 30% relief." Findley recommended, consistent with Dr. Blakenship's opinion, that Griffith should again be referred to Dr. Cannon for additional treatments.

Although the injections had already been found to be reasonable and necessary by the ALJ, and by the Commission in 2012, Union Drilling refused to authorize additional treatment. The hearing before the ALJ was set for March 2014 to determine whether Griffith was entitled to medical treatment in the form of injections by Dr. Cannon, and medical treatment recommendations made by Dr. Blankenship, and whether Griffith was entitled to temporary-total disability from September 6, 2012, when Dr. Blankenship restricted him from work, to a date yet to be determined.

A hearing was held on March 11, 2014, and in the resulting opinion the ALJ found that (1) Griffith was entitled to additional medical treatment as recommended by Dr. Blankenship, which included physical therapy, a referral to pain management with Dr. Regina Thurman, a new MRI, and additional injections by Dr. Cannon; (2) Union Drilling was responsible for reimbursing Griffith his out-of-pocket prescription expenses; (3) Griffith was entitled to temporary-total-disability (TTD) benefits from September 6, 2012, to a date yet to be determined; and (4) Griffith's attorney was entitled to attorney's fees. An appeal was taken to the Commission.

On October 15, 2014, the Commission, after conducting a de novo review of the entire record, found that the ALJ's decision was supported by a preponderance of credible evidence, correctly applied the law, and should be affirmed. The Commission adopted the ALJ's findings and conclusions as its own. Union Drilling now appeals from the Commission's decision.

The Commission's decision is to be affirmed only when there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commission's finding. Express Human Res. III v. Terry, 61 Ark.App. 258, 968 S.W.2d 630 (1998). In appeals involving claims for workers' compensation, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commission's decision and affirms the decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Leach v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 2011 Ark.App. 571. Substantial evidence exists if reasonable minds could reach the Commission's conclusion. Id. The issue is not whether the appellate court might have reached a different result from the Commission; if reasonable minds could reach the result found by the Commission, the appellate court must affirm. Id.

Credibility questions and the weight to be given to witness testimony are within the Commission's exclusive province. Pack v. Little Rock Convention Ctr., 2013 Ark. 186, 427 S.W.3d 586. The Commission's decision to accept or reject medical opinions, and how it resolves conflicting medical evidence, has the force and effect of a jury verdict. St. Edward Mercy Med. Ctr. v. Chrisman, 2012 Ark.App. 475, 422 S.W.3d 171. When the Commission affirms and adopts the ALJ's findings, as it did here, then we consider the ALJ's opinion and the Commission's decision in tandem. Hawley v. First Sec. Bancorp, 2011 Ark.App. 538, 385 S.W.3d 388.

Union Drilling argues that Griffith has failed to sustain his burden of proof that additional medical treatment was reasonably necessary to treat his injury from 2006. Griffith responds that Union Drilling has delayed his treatment by its redundant litigation. There have been three hearings in this case: 2007, 2011, and 2014. Griffith was allowed only three visits in 2006, and then the next treatment was not until 2009.[1] After the Full Commission decision in February 2012, Union Drilling allowed him to begin following the ...


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