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The W L Harper Co. v. Woods

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 21, 2016

THE W L HARPER COMPANY, AMERICAN ZURICH INSURANCE COMPANY APPELLANTS
v.
GEORGE T. WOODS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. G401916]

          Mayton, Newkirk & Jones, by: L. Eric Newkirk, for appellants.

          McKinnon Law Firm, by: David L. Schneider, for appellee.

          WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge.

         Appellants appeal from the January 14, 2016 opinion of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) affirming the April 23, 2015 opinion of the administrative law judge (ALJ) by finding that appellee proved he sustained a compensable injury in the form of bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome; that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits from July 13, 2013, to January 26, 2015; and that the medical treatment of record for his bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome was reasonably necessary. On appeal, appellants' sole argument is that substantial evidence does not support the Commission's finding that appellee sustained a compensable, gradual-onset injury in the form of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. We affirm.

         Appellee began working for appellant The W L Harper Company (The Harper Company) in 2010.[1] He worked eight separate jobs with The Harper Company, varying in length of time from four months to nine months, as a seasonal worker. He filed for and received unemployment benefits in between jobs. He worked for The Harper Company as a concrete finisher, a job which included many duties, but he was mainly responsible for edge work, which was hand-intensive, requiring smoothing, leveling, and finishing concrete.

         On July 13, 2013, appellee experienced sharp pain in his hands while finishing concrete, requiring him to stop working for an hour. He then returned to work and completed his day, but he switched jobs to driving a tractor and cleaning up concrete. That night he went to the emergency room due to pain, numbness, and swelling in his hands. At some point, appellee filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits.[2]

         On January 26, 2015, a hearing was held before the ALJ. The parties stipulated that the Commission had jurisdiction; an employer-employee relationship existed on July 13, 2013; appellee was entitled to maximum compensation rates if compensability was established; and the claim was controverted in its entirety.

         Appellee gave the only testimony. Appellee testified that his job required "a lot of hand work[, ]" noting that he "spent pretty much the whole day working with the [hand] trowels or bump cutter." He was paid $28 per hour and worked "anywhere from eight to ten to twelve hours a day." On July 13, 2013, he experienced "a sharp pain through [his] hands" that "really hit [him]." He was making a circular motion when "suddenly [his] right hand had discomfort" and "within a minute[, ]" the pain went into his arm and then up his shoulder and into his lower back. "A minute or two later, " his left hand did the same thing. He had not had pain in his hands like that pain before as it was "more than hand cramps; it ran all the way up [his] shoulders and down his back." He had experienced cramping before, but not that type of pain. There was no specific trauma on that date and he had had no specific trauma to his hand or arms prior to that date. He was doing "the same kind of work [he] normally [did]" on the date of the accident. He told his supervisor about his pain on the day it happened. He testified to going to the emergency room at Northwest Medical in Springdale on the night of July 13, 2013, for swelling and pain.[3]

         He admitted having had issues with his hands and arms prior to July 13, 2013, though he had said he had not had any such issues during his deposition, but he "didn't consider what was going on before July 13, 2013[, ] as a problem. It was not bothering [him] that bad. It was not an everyday constant pain. [He] was able to work." His visits to the doctor prior to July 13, 2013, were for cramping, and not pain or tingling, though stated as such in some of the reports. He admitted that he answered "no" to certain questions in his deposition of whether he had experienced pain in his hands, upper extremities, arms, elbows, neck, mid back and lower back. However, he maintained that he should have answered "no." When asked during his deposition about "general pain in [his] hands and arms[, ]" he considered his pains prior to July 13, 2013, to be cramps and he "did not consider the cramping either significant enough or continual enough to tell [appellants' attorney] about it."

         The pain had gotten worse in his hands, arms, shoulders, and through his back, requiring him to take "pain meds and things like that." He denied that any doctor had told him that he had carpal tunnel; however, he believed his work "doing the same repetitive action" as a concrete finisher caused the problems in his hands and arms. He maintained that he was also having pain in his legs and that the reports detailing a pain experience of nine out of ten on a scale of one to ten were referencing the pain in his legs and not his hands and arms. He no longer works for The Harper Company, but is working for another company making $12 per hour.

         Pertinent medical evidence was as follows. On November 15, 2012, appellee presented to Dr. Nii Sabab Quao complaining of pain in his legs, both wrists, and his back. Dr. Quao assessed appellee with "1. L/S/ rad Bil. 2. Nephrolithiasis. 3 COPD. 4. Bronchitis. 5. L/A/ Rad. 6. Htn." His assessment further included "CTS Bil." Dr. Quao's treatment plan included "F/U employer re CTS Bil." On February 12, 2013, following two additional appointments, Dr. Quao performed a "Sensory Conduction Study - Class III." The Electrodiagnostic Report therefrom stated:

Higher amplitudes identify pathology with statistical sensitivity approaching 100%. High amplitudes in the median or ulnar palmar branches identify pathology proximal to the wrist. The radial and median nerves arise from C6-7 nerve roots, so correlation with cervical plexus findings rule in or out cervical radiculopathy. Testing above and below the medial elbow identifies cubital tunnel entrapment when the distal segment has the higher, amplitude. If the proximal is higher radiculopathy is suspected. Correlation with the history and other findings is necessary before initiating or changing treatment. Below normal amplitudes correlate with irritation and may suggest possible adjacent inflammatory activity, which warrants investigation for possible concomitant pathology.

         On March 12, 2013, Dr. Quao noted that appellee complained of back, leg, shoulder, and arm pain. He assessed appellee with "1. Htn. 2. COPD. 3. Hyperthyroidism. 4. DJD. 5. Chronic LBP. 6. CTS." He further noted "CTS getting worse." "CTS Bil" was listed on every evaluation of appellee by Dr. Quao before July 13, 2013, and he continued to be treated for the same after that date..

         On July 30, 2013, appellee was seen by Dr. Jim Cheeks who assessed him with hand pain, tingling sensation, and neck pain. Dr. Cheeks ordered a physical therapist referral that appellee began on August 5, 2013, and from which he was discharged to "self care" on August 23, 2013. Appellee continued to follow-up with Dr. Quao who had assessed him with "CTS Bil" on July 31, 2013. Appellee was still complaining of "sharp and throbbing" hand pain, the onset of which "was gradual[, ]" when he saw Kristen Sheman, PA, on May 16, 2014, and June 13, 2014.

         In its opinion filed April 23, 2015, the ALJ found, in pertinent part, that:

1. The Claimant has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered a compensable injury on July 13, 2013 in the form of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. The claimant's bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome arose out of and in the course of his employment. He has provided proof in the form of objective medical findings and has proven that the injury is the major cause of his disability and need for treatment.
2. Having found that the claimant suffered a compensable injury in the form of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, he is entitled to the appropriate medical ...

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