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La-Z-Boy Manufacturing, Inc. v. Bruner

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

February 24, 2016

LA-Z-BOY MANUFACTURING, INC., APPELLANT
v.
REBECCA BRUNER, APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION. NO. G309173.

         For APPELLEE: CONRAD THOMAS ODOM.

         For APPELLANT: CURTIS L NEBBEN.

         RITA W. GRUBER, Judge. GLADWIN, C.J., and VIRDEN, J., agree.

          OPINION

          RITA W. GRUBER, Judge

         La-Z-Boy Manufacturing, Inc., appeals the decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission that adjudicated Rebecca Bruner's claim of bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome as a compensable injury.[1] La-Z-Boy contends that the Commission's finding that the claim was not barred by the statute of limitations is an error of law and is not supported by substantial evidence. We disagree and affirm.

          With exceptions not relevant to the present case, a claim for compensation for disability on account of an injury shall be barred unless filed with the Commission within two years from the date of the compensable injury. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-702(a)(1) (Repl. 2012). The statute of limitations for gradual-onset injuries, such as carpal-tunnel syndrome, begins to run when the injury becomes apparent to the claimant. Pina v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 91 Ark.App. 77, 84, 208 S.W.3d 236, 239-40 (2005) (citing Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing v. Baker, 337 Ark. 94, 989 S.W.2d 151 (1999)); see also Cottage Cafe, Inc. v. Collette, 94 Ark.App. 72, 76, 226 S.W.3d 27, 30 (2006). The claimant's awareness that her injury is causally related to the working environment is not an element of the inquiry. Pina, 91 Ark.App. at 85, 208 S.W.3d at 240.

         La-Z-Boy contends that the Commission disregarded case law that has established the analysis for a determination of the commencement of the limitations period. La-Z-Boy also challenges the Commission's finding that Ms. Bruner's injury was first apparent to her in October 2013 when her symptoms were diagnosed as carpal-tunnel syndrome and she reported her injury to her supervisor. La-Z-Boy argues that Ms. Bruner " was clearly aware of her injury, by her own admission, five or six years prior to filing a claim" and that testimony and medical records " conclusively show" her awareness three years before she filed her claim in November 2013. The administrative law judge outlined these issues as follows:

The Commission has been asked to determine if the claimant sustained a compensable injury in the form of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome with symptoms manifesting on October 22, 2013. However, the respondent has raised the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense. Therefore, the first question that must be addressed is if this claim is barred by the statute of limitations.

         Regarding the statute-of-limitations issue, the Commission wrote the following in the opinion that we now review:

[T]he Incident Statement completed by the claimant on November 7, 2013 indicated that she had suffered from " tingling and numbness" five to six years. Nevertheless, the claimant correctly states on appeal that she was not diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome until October 2013. The claimant cites Pina v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 91 Ark.App. 77, 208 S.W.3d 236 (2005). In Pina, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission's determination that the statute of limitations began running at the time the claimant complained of symptoms to her supervisor. The Full Commission finds in the instant matter that the two-year statute of limitations did not begin running until October 2013, when the claimant first reported symptoms to her supervisor. The claimant's supervisor, Shelly Smith, corroborated the claimant's contention that she did not report work-related symptoms until October 2013. The claimant filed claim for worker's compensation no later than March 2014, well within the two-year statutory period. The Full Commission finds that the claimant's gradual-onset injury did not " become apparent" to the claimant until October 2013, when the claimant reported work-related symptoms to her supervisor. We find that the " true extent" of the claimant's injury did not manifest until October 2013. See Hall's Cleaners v. Wortham, 311 Ark. 103, 842 S.W.2d 7 (1992).

         The Commission also concluded that Ms. Bruner proved that she had sustained a gradual-on-set injury causing physical harm to the body, which arose out of and in the course of employment.

         La-Z-Boy asserts on appeal that, in determining when a scheduled gradual-onset injury legally commences, the Commission applied the " manifestation" approach that we have previously rejected as improper. La-Z-Boy further argues that the record " is flooded with evidence" that Ms. Bruner knew of, recognized, and was aware of her injury " for over three years prior to October 2013." It points to testimony by her coworker Curtis Nebber, who on cross-examination said that Ms. Bruner " possibly" complained about her hands before then and to Ms. Bruner's testimony that she had previously experienced pain and numbness.

         In Collette, 94 Ark.App. at 75, 226 S.W.3d at 29-30, where successive insurers accepted neither the compensability of the ...


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