Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wilson v. Riceland Foods, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

November 29, 2017

STEPHEN WILSON APPELLANT
v.
RICELAND FOODS, INC., AND ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. G502370]

          Hunter Law Firm, LLC, by: Scott Hunter, Sr., for appellant.

          Womack Phelps Puyear Mayfield & McNeil, P.A., by: Mark Mayfield and Chuck Gschwend, for appellees.

          MIKE MURPHY, JUDGE.

         This appeal arises from a workers' compensation claim in which appellant Stephen Wilson injured himself when he tripped and fell while working for appellee Riceland Foods, Inc. (Riceland), on March 23, 2015. Wilson appeals the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission's (Commission) determination that (1) he was not entitled to permanent partial-disability benefits in excess of the percentage of his permanent physical impairment and (2) he was employed at wages equal to or greater than his average weekly wage at the time of the accident. We affirm.

         Wilson was forty-one years old on March 23, 2015, when, while working as part-time seasonal help for Riceland, he slipped off a rice pod (described by Wilson in his testimony as "like a big old mountain"). He fell ten to twelve feet and landed on his buttocks. A coworker took Wilson to the hospital where it was determined Wilson had fractured his spine at the L1 vertebra in the fall and required surgery. He was in the hospital for five days, was in a rehabilitation hospital for another three weeks, and required physical therapy for some time after. His testimony at the July 1, 2016 hearing before the administrative law judge (ALJ) was that he still had pain from the accident and required pain medication.

         The injury was not controverted. On June 25, 2015, Wilson was cleared to return to light-duty work with restrictions. Wilson's anatomical impairment resulting from the accident was evaluated on January 21, 2016, by Dr. Scott Carle. Dr. Carle concluded that Wilson's anatomical impairment was a 19 percent whole-person impairment. The ALJ accepted this rating and further concluded that Wilson was not entitled to permanent-partial disability benefits in excess of that 19 percent because, since returning to work, Wilson had received a raise from $9.75 per hour to $10 per hour. The Commission adopted the ALJ's opinion.

         Wilson now appeals, arguing that the Commission erred in finding that he was employed at wages equal to or greater than his average weekly wage at the time of the accident, and therefore erred in finding he was not entitled to permanent partial-disability benefits in excess of the percentage of his permanent physical impairment.

         Under Arkansas law, the Commission is permitted to adopt an ALJ's opinion. Godwin v. Garland Cty. Landfill, 2016 Ark.App. 498, at 4, 504 S.W.3d 660, 662. In so doing, the Commission makes the ALJ's findings and conclusions the findings and conclusions of the Commission. Id. Therefore, for purposes of our review, we consider both the ALJ's opinion and the Commission's majority opinion. Id.

         We review Commission decisions to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support them. Towler v. Tyson Poultry, Inc., 2012 Ark.App. 546, at 2, 423 S.W.3d 664, 666. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. We review the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings. Id. Where, as here, the Commission denies claims because of the failure to show entitlement to benefits by a preponderance of the evidence, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires that we affirm if the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief. Id. The Commission is the ultimate arbiter of weight and credibility. Id. The Commission has the authority to accept or reject medical opinions, and its resolution of conflicting medical evidence has the force and effect of a jury verdict. Id.

         Wilson argues that the ALJ erred when it did not award him permanent partial-disability benefits in excess of the 19 percent anatomical-impairment rating.

         Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-522 (Repl. 2012) provides that when a permanent-partial disability is apportioned to the body as a whole, a claimant shall be paid compensation for the proportionate loss of use. This statute, though, also gives discretion to the Commission to increase that anatomical rating, such that it can even find a claimant totally and permanently disabled based on wage-loss factors. Id. The wage-loss factor is the extent to which a compensable injury has affected the claimant's ability to earn a livelihood. Emerson Elec. v. Gaston, 75 Ark.App. 232, 58 S.W.3d 848 (2001). The Commission is charged with the duty of determining disability based on a consideration of medical evidence and other matters affecting wage loss, such as the claimant's age, education, and work experience. Whitlach v. Southland Land & Dev., 84 Ark.App. 399, 404, 141 S.W.3d 916, 920 (2004).

         The statute goes on to provide, however, that

so long as an employee, subsequent to his or her injury, has returned to work, has obtained other employment, or has a bona fide and reasonably obtainable offer to be employed at wages equal to or greater than his or her average weekly wage at the time of the accident, he or she shall not be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits in excess of the percentage of ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.