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J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. v. Hollingsworth

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

May 25, 2016



          Dover Dixon Horne, PLLC, by: Joseph H. Purvis and Monte D. Estes, for appellants.

          Cullen & Co., PLLC, by: Tim Cullen, for appellee.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Appellants J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. and New Hampshire Insurance Company appeal the decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (the Commission) finding that appellee Gregory Hollingsworth was entitled to additional medical treatment by Dr. Luke Knox, including a cervical discectomy and fusion, and temporary-total-disability (TTD) benefits from October 21, 2014, to a date yet to be determined. On appeal, appellants argue that the Commission's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and that the decision should be reversed. We disagree and affirm.

         On July 14, 2014, Hollingsworth was driving a truck for J.B. Hunt when he was involved in a rollover accident. J.B. Hunt accepted the claim as a compensable injury but challenged whether he was entitled to additional medical treatment in the form of surgery recommended by Hollingsworth's treating neurosurgeon, Dr. Knox, and also whether Hollingsworth was entitled to TTD benefits pending the neck surgery and recovery.

         At the time of the accident, Hollingsworth was fifty-four years old. Though he had been a truck driver for thirty years, he had worked for J.B. Hunt for only less than a year. He was hired to drive live birds to and from plants in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri. When Hollingsworth began employment with J.B. Hunt in December 2013, he passed medical, lifting, and agility tests, including lifting eighty pounds to his nose. While on the job on July 14, 2014, the truck he was driving rolled over as he was leaving a farm. The incident happened after Hollingsworth had passed another J.B. Hunt truck on the same road; the other driver was arriving at the farm as Hollingsworth was leaving.

         Hollingsworth was immediately taken to the emergency room at Cox Hospital in Monett, Missouri. The emergency room records reflect that he suffered face, neck, and scalp lacerations. He also suffered a broken nose and had bruises on his arms and knee. His injuries required five staples behind his right ear and a stitch under his nose. The emergency room doctor noted possible cervical problems, but CT scans done at the hospital reflected probable moderate degenerative changes at the cervical level. The doctor also noted some moderate degenerative changes at C1-2 before Hollingsworth was discharged on July 15.

         Hollingsworth testified that he had intense pain after the accident. He stated that he could not bend his neck to the right or left and that bending his neck backwards caused him severe and excruciating pain. Hollingsworth testified that he had no neck pain or issues prior to the wreck, and that testimony was corroborated by the fact that he had never required medication, treatment, or any kind of x-ray or imaging study on his neck before July 14, 2014. J.B. Hunt terminated Hollingsworth on July 28, 2014; he has not worked since the accident.

         Hollingsworth was seen by Dr. Rebecca Lewis, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), at Quick Care Clinics in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, on July 22, 2014. Dr. Lewis noted that Hollingsworth's neck was tender and that his ribs hurt but there was no fracture. She removed the staples from his healed scalp laceration. Dr. Lewis also noted some cervical whiplash and spasms in his neck and diagnosed him with having contusions and bruising on his left thigh. Dr. Lewis gave Hollingsworth a Medrol dose pack and a refill of pain medication for the rib pain.

         On August 4, 2014, Hollingsworth returned to Dr. Lewis, who noted that his rib pain was much improved and that he had been terminated by J.B. Hunt following an investigation of the wreck. Dr. Lewis examined Hollingsworth and noted that Hollingsworth's reaction was "inappropriate pain response to gentle touch of the cervical spine." Hollingsworth told Dr. Lewis that the rotation of the neck to the right was limited as well. All of his other injuries appeared to have resolved. Dr. Lewis diagnosed an increase in right-sided neck pain and right-upper-arm pain, along with inappropriate pain response to gentle touch of the cervical spine. She ordered an MRI to help clarify any of the complaints and also noted that there were chronic, ongoing degenerative changes in the neck that had been there long before the accident.

         The MRI was conducted on August 13, 2014. The results, as read by the radiologist, reflected only chronic degenerative changes and no acute changes. After the MRI and an examination on August 18, 2014, Dr. Lewis recommended that Hollingsworth seek the attention of a neurosurgeon to help him gain insight into his degenerative conditions. She opined that he could go back to work with no restrictions and that he suffered no permanent impairment due to the work-related injury.

         In October 2014, Hollingsworth saw neurosurgeon Dr. Luke Knox, who examined Hollingsworth and reviewed the previous tests. In his deposition, Dr. Knox testified that he agreed that the prior x-rays, CT scan, and MRI administered to Hollingsworth found only long-standing and chronic degenerative issues in his cervical spine. Dr. Knox recommended a myelogram test, which was conducted on January 16, 2015. The radiologist who read the myelogram found the test negative for evidence of disc protrusion or canal stenosis and found mild degenerative disc disease at C5-6 and C6-7. Dr. Knox disagreed slightly, finding that the myelogram was positive for showing extrinsic compression of the nerve root.

         J.B. Hunt argued that Hollingsworth suffered from a preexisting condition, but the ALJ found, "[h]owever, the fact that the claimant had no neck pain or issues prior to July 14, 2014 cannot be overlooked. If Dr. Lewis' records and findings are to be believed and the claimant suffered degenerative neck issues, it is certainly possible that the July 14, 2014 accident may have aggravated those issues. Such an aggravation would be compensable under the law."

         The full Commission affirmed and adopted the ALJ's opinion in a 2–1 decision. J.B. Hunt filed a timely notice of appeal from the ...

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