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Bennett v. Tyson Poultry Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 19, 2016



          Michael Hamby, P.A., by: Michael Hamby, for appellant.

          Ledbetter, Cogbill, Arnold & Harrison, LLP, by: E. Diane Graham and Joseph Karl Luebke, for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, JUDGE.

         This workers' compensation case involves several claims filed by Letecia Bennett, a 27-year employee of Tyson Poultry, Inc., after she sustained a May 2012 compensable injury in the form of bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome. Her work history at Tyson included some 16 years deboning chickens; then 5 years on the "tote wash, " where she and a coworker placed tubs in a washing machine and removed them-alternating these tasks with one another each hour; and finally, before she underwent a right-wrist surgery for the compensable carpal-tunnel syndrome, a job in housekeeping. In March 2013, she sustained a compensable injury to her right shoulder; later the same month, she underwent left-wrist surgery for the compensable carpal-tunnel syndrome. The wrist surgeries, performed by Dr. Lawrence D. Dodd, were unsuccessful.

         Ms. Bennett received a change of physicians to Dr. James Kelly, who ordered nerve- conduction studies. In September 2013, he noted that the studies still showed bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome and he recommended "a redo." Dr. Kelly planned to perform the right carpal-tunnel release first and the left release six to eight weeks later. He did perform the repeat right carpal-tunnel release in October 2013, but the repeat left carpal-tunnel release was never done. In September 2014, Ms. Bennett filed a claim for a gradual-onset injury of April 1, 2014, in the form of a right-wrist ganglion cyst and tendinitis due to rapid and repetitive motion. Tyson denied the claim, and she used her own insurance to undergo surgery and treatment by Dr. Kelly for the cyst and tendinitis.

         In July 2015, an administrative law judge conducted a hearing on controverted issues in this case. He found that Ms. Bennett failed to prove (1) entitlement to additional medical treatment for the compensable bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome and right-shoulder injury; (2) compensability of the ganglion cyst and bilateral tendinitis; and (3) entitlement to a 12-percent permanent-impairment rating that Dr. Kelly had assigned. The Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed and adopted the law judge's opinion. Ms. Bennett raises three points on appeal, challenging the Commission's findings that she failed to meet her burden of proof on the three issues. We reverse the denial of her claim for additional medical treatment for the compensable bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome, and we remand to the Commission on this issue. In all other aspects, we affirm.

         The Commission shall determine whether the party having the burden of proof on any issue has established it by a preponderance of evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-705(a)(3) (Repl. 2012). We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings and will affirm if those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Jordan v. Home Depot, Inc., 2013 Ark.App. 572, 430 S.W.3d 136. When the Commission denies benefits because the claimant has failed to meet her burden of proof, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires that we affirm if the Commission's decision displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief. Id.

         In order to reverse a decision of the Commission, we must be convinced that fair-minded persons with the same facts before them could not have arrived at the conclusion reached by the Commission. Santillan v. Tyson Sales & Distrib., 2011 Ark.App. 634, at 6, 386 S.W.3d 566, 570. The issue on review is not whether the evidence would have supported a contrary finding or whether we might have reached a different result; we affirm if reasonable minds could reach the Commission's conclusion. Thompson v. Mountain Home Good Samaritan Vill., 2014 Ark.App. 493, 442 S.W.3d 873. We defer to the Commission's findings of credibility and the resolution of conflicting evidence. Get Rid of It Ark. v. Graham, 2016 Ark.App. 88, at 10.

         I. Additional Medical Treatment

         In her first point on appeal, Ms. Bennett challenges the Commission's finding that she did not prove entitlement to additional medical treatment for the compensable bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome or compensable right-shoulder injury. The employer shall promptly provide for an injured employee such medical services as may be reasonably necessary in connection with the employee's injury. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-508(a) (Repl. 2012). What constitutes reasonably necessary treatment is a question of fact for the Commission, which has the duty to use its expertise to determine the soundness of medical evidence and to translate it into findings of fact. Hamilton v. Gregory Trucking, 90 Ark.App. 248, 205 S.W.3d 181 (2005).

         We now address the denial of Ms. Bennett's claim for additional medical treatment for her compensable bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome. The Commission's opinion included the following discussion of medical treatment she received from Dr. Kelly after October 2013, when he performed the "redo" release on the right wrist:

Medical records from Dr. Kelly do indicate that further treatment on the claimant's left wrist was contemplated; however, these reports were before the surgery on claimant's right wrist for the tendinitis and before claimant's complaints changed. Dr. Kelly performed surgery for claimant's tendinitis on September 30, 2014. By the time of claimant's first follow-up visit after this surgery with Dr. Kelly on October 17, 2014, Dr. Kelly noted that claimant was not complaining about pain in her wrists, but rather about numbness down her shoulders and into both arms. As a result, Dr. Kelly ordered an MRI scan of the claimant's cervical spine which according to his report of November 12, 2014, revealed nothing that would relate to the problems of which she was complaining. Given the MRI findings, Dr. Kelly stated: "In light of this, there is absolutely nothing I think I can do for her any further." Dr. Kelly then went on to state that he was going to find that claimant had reached maximum medical improvement and he ordered the functional capacities evaluation upon which he subsequently based claimant's work restrictions.

         (Emphasis added.) The Commission assigned great weight to Dr. Kelly's opinion, noting his statement that there was "nothing" else he could do for Ms. Bennett. On this basis, the Commission denied her claim for additional medical ...

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