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Robbins v. Hilark Industries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

September 6, 2017



          Corey Robbins, pro se appellant.

          Smith, Williams & Meeks, L.L.P., by: Gene Williams, for appellees.


         Corey Robbins appeals the September 7, 2016 opinion of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) in which it adopted the February 25, 2016 opinion of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ ruled that Robbins failed to prove a compensable injury. Robbins's sole argument on appeal is that the Commission's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm.

         Robbins, who was thirty-one years old at the time, sustained a cardiovascular accident on July 6, 2015, at approximately 10:00 p.m. while at home, which resulted in sudden cardiac arrest and required resuscitation followed by hospitalization, medical treatment, and disability benefits. Robbins worked as a painter at HilArk Industries, where he had worked for more than a year, and his duties consisted primarily of prepping and painting dump truck beds. On the day of the incident, Robbins went to work as he normally did, prepped the paint, put on a special paint suit, entered the paint booth, [1] and began the painting process. Robbins became overheated while in the paint booth and went to the air-conditioned employee break room to cool down. Another employee in the break room, who worked as an assistant firefighter, told Robbins he appeared to be overheated, so the man notified Dennis Edwards, chief financial officer of HilArk, to tend to Robbins. Edwards repeatedly asked Robbins if he felt well, if he had chest pain, if he had shortness of breath, if he needed medical attention, or if he wished to go home. Robbins repeatedly said he just needed to cool off and that his fiancée could not pick him up from work until his normal quit time of 3:30 p.m.

         Monica Johnson, Robbins's fiancée, testified that Robbins became very emotional when he got in the car. She said Robbins told her that "[he] thought [he] could die" and that "he just got too hot." Later that night, she explained he could not get comfortable, so he went to the living room to sit up. Johnson followed him into the living room where he began to "[make] noises, [turn] colors, and [foam] at the mouth." He was resuscitated by paramedics and transported to the hospital where he survived.

         At the time of the incident, Robbins had a long history of drug abuse. Just weeks prior, he was advised to undergo narcotics counseling because of depression and suicidal thoughts. When the ambulance arrived, Johnson told the paramedics that Robbins had an opiate addiction, thinking he had overdosed. However, Robbins had a negative drug screen on the night of the incident. Once Robbins was checked in at the hospital, Johnson informed the doctor that Robbins had overheated at work but that he had started to cool down.

         Robbins initially applied for short-term disability and Social Security disability and signed various forms indicating that his disability was not work related. It was not until after talking with one of his doctors that he pursued a workers'-compensation claim; Dr. Steve Hutchins apparently told him that heat could have caused his injury. In his workers'-compensation claim, Robbins contended that the cardiac arrest was brought about as the result of exposure to chemicals, excessive heat, and dehydration associated with his employment.

         The ALJ made extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, which the Commission adopted and affirmed, and ultimately found that Robbins failed to prove that he had sustained a compensable injury within the meaning of the Arkansas workers'-compensation laws. Robbins appealed, asserting that the decision of the Commission is not supported by substantial evidence and should be reversed.

         The standard of review in workers'-compensation cases is well settled. On appeal, 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. Schall v. Univ. of Ark. for Med. Scis., 2017 Ark.App. 50, at 2, 510 S.W.3d 302, 303. 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, but whether reasonable minds could reach the result found by the Commission: if so, the appellate court must affirm. Id.

         Credibility questions and the weight to be given to witness testimony are within the Commission's exclusive province. Id. 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. Id.

         The issue of compensability is controlled by the provisions of Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-114, and the standard of proof in heart-attack cases is high, as follows:

(a) A cardiovascular, coronary, pulmonary, respiratory, or cerebrovascular accident or myocardial infarction causing injury, illness, or death is a compensable injury only if, in relation to other factors contributing to the physical ...

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