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Wall Farms, LLC v. Hulsey

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

November 15, 2017



          Roberts Law Firm, by: Terry Don Lucy, for appellants.

          Wells & Wells, PLLC, by: Phillip Wells, for appellee.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge

         This is a workers' compensation case. The appellants are Wall Farms, LLC (Wall Farms), and its current insurance carrier, Riverport Insurance Company (Riverport Insurance). The appellees are Jeff Hulsey and Wall Farms' former insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty Mutual). Mr. Hulsey was an eight-year employee of Wall Farms. Mr. Hulsey was involved in a job-related accident on April 23, 2014, and another job-related accident four months later on August 14, 2014. Mr. Hulsey brought a workers' compensation claim alleging that he sustained compensable lower back injuries on April 23, 2014 (when Liberty Mutual was providing coverage), and on August 14, 2014 (when Riverport Insurance was providing coverage). Both insurance carriers controverted the claim.

         After a hearing, the Workers' Compensation Commission found that Mr. Hulsey failed to prove that he sustained a compensable injury on April 23, 2014, while Liberty Mutual was providing coverage. However, the Commission did find that he proved a compensable injury on August 14, 2014, while Riverport Insurance was providing coverage. The Commission awarded Mr. Hulsey reasonable medical treatment, as well as temporary total disability benefits from October 6, 2014, through November 6, 2014. The Commission found that because Riverport Insurance was Wall Farms' insurance carrier at the time of the August 14, 2014 compensable injury, Riverport was responsible for providing all of the workers' compensation benefits.

         Wall Farms and Riverport Insurance now appeal, arguing that the Commission's findings were not supported by substantial evidence, the Commission misapplied the law to the facts of the case, and the Commission's findings did not support the award. Mr. Hulsey has cross-appealed, arguing that the Commission's denial of temporary total disability benefits beyond November 6, 2014, was not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm on direct appeal and we affirm on cross-appeal.

         When reviewing a decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the findings of the Commission. Evans v. Bemis Co., Inc., 2010 Ark.App. 65, 374 S.W.3d 51. This court must affirm the decision of the Commission if it is supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence is that evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion of the Commission. Id. We reverse the Commission's decision only if we are convinced that fair-minded persons could not have reached the same conclusion with the same facts before them. Id. Questions regarding the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony are within the exclusive province of the Commission. Id.

         Mr. Hulsey testified that he helped maintain a cattle operation for Wall Farms. He stated that his job was physically demanding and that, prior to April 23, 2014, he had no physical limitations and no lower back problems.

         Mr. Hulsey testified that, while working on April 23, 2014, he fell about four feet to the ground off a spray rig and twisted when he landed. Mr. Hulsey worked about another hour and then called his boss, Adam Wall, and reported that he had hurt his back. Mr. Hulsey stated that, after that day, he attempted to return to regular duty but missed ten days of work, although they were not consecutive. Mr. Hulsey did not seek medical treatment until May 19, 2014, when he visited a chiropractor, Dr. Chris Curtis. During that visit, Mr. Hulsey wrote on a registration-and-history form that the reason for his visit was back pain and that his symptoms appeared "a while ago." In answering whether his condition was due to an accident, Mr. Hulsey checked both the "yes" and the "no" boxes and wrote "unsure." Mr. Hulsey also wrote on the form, "fell at work two weeks ago." In his report, Dr. Curtis noted "low back pain past 2 weeks with no cause. Pt states has had back problems in the past." Dr. Curtis's radiology report indicated that there was "hypo" lordosis in the alignment of Mr. Hulsey's spine, with no further comment.

         Mr. Hulsey testified that he was able to function but remained sore until his next injury on August 14, 2014. Mr. Hulsey stated that, on August 14, 2014, he was bush hogging and ran into a hole, which "whipped [him] to the left and jerked [him] around." Mr. Hulsey stated that, after this injury, the pain was much worse, radiating further up his back, down into his hip, with excruciating pain in his right leg. Mr. Hulsey stated that he dealt with the pain after his first injury, but after the second injury he had to do something. Mr. Hulsey went to the doctor on the day of the August 14, 2014 accident. He was off work for several days after the accident, and then returned to work for only a couple days per week before discontinuing his work altogether on October 6, 2014.

         The August 14, 2014 medical report indicated that Mr. Hulsey reported that he had been suffering from back pain for months. The report further stated that the symptoms began when Mr. Hulsey fell off a wagon and had progressed with him experiencing numbness in his left leg and arm. Cecil Massey, an advanced practice registered nurse, examined Mr. Hulsey's back and reported paralumbar muscular spasms.

         An MRI of Mr. Hulsey's lumbar spine was performed on August 18, 2014. The MRI report noted that Mr. Hulsey had slipped and fallen two months ago. The MRI detected disc bulges at L3-L4 and L4-L5, as well as a disc bulge and herniation at L5-S1.

         After the MRI, Cecil Massey, APRN, referred Mr. Hulsey to St. Bernard's Neurosurgery Clinic, and Mr. Hulsey was seen by Dr. John Campbell on October 6, 2014. Mr. Hulsey then reported that he was injured on the job "late spring went to Doc 8-14-14." In Dr. Campbell's report, he stated that Mr. Hulsey was hurt on the job earlier that year when he fell off a piece of equipment, and had injured himself again a few weeks ago when he was bush hogging, apparently hit a rut or hole, and was jerked severely. Dr. Campbell reviewed the MRI, set up physical therapy for Mr. Hulsey, and stated that Mr. ...

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