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Arkansas State University and Arkansas Insurance Department v. Gatlin-Tennant

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

November 29, 2017

ARKANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY AND ARKANSAS INSURANCE DEPARTMENT, PUBLIC EMPLOYEE CLAIMS DIVISION APPELLANTS
v.
JEANETTE GATLIN-TENNANT APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. G409859]

          Charles H. McLemore Jr., for appellant Public Employee Claims Division.

          Jeanette Gatlin-Tennant, pro se appellee.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, JUDGE.

         Appellants, Arkansas State University (ASU) and Arkansas Insurance Department, Public Employee Claims Division (PECD), appeal from a January 30, 2017 opinion by the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) affirming and adopting the findings of fact and conclusions of law made by the administrative law judge (ALJ) in favor of appellee Jeanette Gatlin-Tennant. On appeal, appellants contend that substantial evidence does not support the Commission's decision that appellee was entitled to be reimbursed for the installation of a walk-in shower in her bathroom. We affirm.

         Appellee worked for ASU as an administrative assistant before to her injury. Appellee sustained a compensable injury to her left knee on December 10, 2014, when she fell at work while walking to the post office. Appellee immediately reported the incident and received medical treatment at the emergency room of St. Bernard's Medical Center. Appellee further underwent surgery on her left knee, in which hardware was installed, and she received continued care under Dr. Brandon M. Byrd, a Jonesboro orthopedic surgeon.

         PECD initially denied her claim for workers' compensation benefits in a letter dated December 16, 2014. Appellee completed a Form AR-N at PECD's request, and PECD subsequently accepted appellee's injury as being compensable in a letter dated December 22, 2014. In that letter, PECD advised appellee that it would be responsible for the necessary and reasonable medical treatment associated with the accident; that appellee was to call or email Verlene Williams, the workers'-compensation claims specialist employed by PECD, after each doctor's visit; and that "[m]edical bills, including prescription drugs, as a result of your injury should be sent to PECD for review and consideration for payment." In a letter dated December 23, 2014, PECD advised appellee to provide her doctor with a copy of the letter for his records and reiterated that it would be responsible for the necessary and reasonable medical treatment associated with the accident.

         As a result of the compensable accident, appellee could not bend her knee, and therefore could not bathe at her residence. Appellee's treating physician prescribed a walk-in shower as being reasonable and medically necessary. The instant proceedings involve appellee's request for reimbursement for the cost of a walk-in shower, which was installed in her residence. In a prehearing document filed by appellants, appellants contended that "the claimant is not entitled to be reimbursed by Respondents for a walk-in shower which she had installed in her house before she gave any notice to the Respondent about this shower."

         At the hearing, appellee testified that appellants had paid for the surgery and treatment provided by Dr. Byrd. She testified that after the surgery, she was unable to bathe in the existing tub in her home because her knee would not bend. Appellee indicated that Dr. Byrd told her that she needed to have a "handicapped . . . medical shower." Therefore, she called Williams, her claims specialist, regarding her need for a walk-in shower. Appellee testified that she had contacted Williams both before and after the installation of the walk-in shower.

         Appellee testified that after receiving several bids, she sent the cheapest bid for the installation of a walk-in shower with handrails to Williams by certified mail. Although appellee did not have the signed returned-receipt card with her the day of the hearing, she testified that it had been signed by a PECD employee on January 15, 2015. Appellee testified that she was required to pay the full balance before the contractors would complete the project. The record reflects that appellee paid half of the balance on January 9, 2015, and the remaining balance on January 16, 2015, for a total cost including taxes of $3, 665.81. Appellee stated that she attempted to contact Williams after she had forwarded the estimate and before the installation; however, she stated that Williams would not return her calls.

         Appellee testified that the installation must have occurred prior to January 26, 2015, because notes from appellee's office visit with Dr. Byrd on that date indicated the following:

[Appellee] has had difficulty getting into her bathtub and has since put in a walk-in shower with handrails. I think that is medically necessary for her and even for the long term as well. We will give her a letter for that today. We will see her back in 2 to 3 weeks to see how she is progressing with her range of motion.

         Included in our record is an undated note signed by Dr. Byrd that states, "[B]ased on your visit today, your provider recommended the following: that shower and handrails are medically necessary for entering the bath safely." Appellee testified that at some point after the installation, Williams told her that she needed a prescription from the doctor. Two prescriptions signed by Dr. Byrd are contained in our record, a prescription for shower handrails dated April 23, 2015, and a prescription for a medical walk-in shower dated June 11, 2015.

         Additionally, our record contains two letters from PECD that are worth noting. In a letter dated March 2, ...


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