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Kiswire Pine Bluff, Inc. v. Segars

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

May 9, 2018



          Bassett Law Firm LLP, by: Tod C. Bassett, for appellants.

          M. Keith Wren, for appellee.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

         Marion Segars worked for Kiswire Pine Bluff, Inc., for twenty-five years before he filed a claim for a workplace injury. The claims process began on 4 November 2015, when Segars was testing a wire inside a test tube, fumbled the tube, and felt his arm pop while trying to save the tube from falling to the ground. He immediately reported the incident to his employer and received an x-ray the same day, which showed no acute injuries. A November 25 MRI showed a large rotator cuff defect, or full-thickness tear, in the infraspinatus tendon segment with retraction of the infraspinatus tendon. Dr. Bowen, the surgeon who repaired Segars's right shoulder, wrote, "I presume that since he [Segars] had no symptoms in his shoulder prior to his [November 4] injury that this was causative and is the reason for his current shoulder problem."

          Segars had some prior issues with both shoulders. Dr. Bowen successfully repaired a left rotator-cuff injury two and a half years before the alleged workplace injury to his right shoulder. Segars's medical records revealed that in April 2013 he had complained to Dr. Bowen about pain in his right shoulder. Dr. Bowen noted that Segars might have a degenerative rotator-cuff tear in the right shoulder, that he had rejected treatment at that time, and that an MRI may be warranted if Segars's symptoms continued. By June 2013, Segars's right shoulder was reportedly "much better, " and he did not seek further medical attention before the November 4 injury. Segars testified during the administrative hearing that his right shoulder was asymptomatic during this time. It is undisputed that Segars was taking prescription pain medication for unrelated chronic back pain when the November 4 workplace injury occurred. It is also undisputed that the only MRI of Segars's right shoulder was performed on 25 November 2015, which happened after the alleged workplace injury.

         The administrative law judge found that Segars failed to prove a compensable right-shoulder injury. Reversing the law judge, the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) found that Segars injured his right shoulder on 4 November 2015 while performing employment services. It cited the rotator-cuff tear on the November 25 MRI as objective evidence of the injury. After some discussion, the Commission credited Dr. Bowen's statement that the work-related incident caused the shoulder injury. It also awarded him temporary total-disability (TTD) benefits from 3 January 2016 to 20 September 2016. Kiswire, Pine Bluff Inc., and its insurance carrier Travelers Indemnity Co. (collectively Kiswire), challenge the Commission's decision. They argue that the Commission erred as a matter of law when it awarded medical benefits and TTD benefits. Kiswire also argues that the Commission's decision to award benefits is not supported by substantial evidence.

         I. Medical Benefits Award

         The Commission determines credibility, weighs the evidence, and resolves conflicts in medical testimony and evidence. Godwin v. Garland Cty. Landfill, 2016 Ark.App. 498, at 4, 504 S.W.3d 660, 662. We review the Commission's decision in the light most favorable to its findings and affirm when the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Parker v. Atl. Research Corp., 87 Ark.App. 145, 189 S.W.3d 449 (2004). Substantial evidence is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a 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, we must affirm. Parker v. Comcast Cable Corp., 100 Ark.App. 400, 269 S.W.3d 391 (2007).

         A compensable injury must be established by medical evidence supported by objective findings. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(D) (Repl. 2017). "Objective findings" cannot come under the voluntary control of the patient. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(16). There is no requirement that medical testimony be based solely or expressly on objective findings, only that the record contain supporting objective findings. Singleton v. City of Pine Bluff, 97 Ark.App. 59, 60, 244 S.W.3d 709, 711 (2006).

         To prove a specific-incident injury, the claimant must establish that the injury was one "arising out of and in the course of employment." Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(4)(A)(ii) (Repl. 2017). In Freeman v. Con-Agra Frozen Foods, our supreme court explained the causation requirement this way:

This court has never required that a doctor be absolute in an opinion or that the magic words "within a reasonable degree of medical certainty" even be used by the doctor. Rather, this court has simply held that the medical opinion be more than speculation. For example, in Howell v. Scroll Technologies, 343 Ark. 297, 35 S.W.3d 800 (2001), the opining doctor stated that his patient's exposure at work to a coolant mist was at least fifty-one percent the cause of her respiratory problems. We held that that opinion fell within the standard of a reasonable degree of medical certainty. Accordingly, if the doctor renders an opinion about causation with language that goes beyond possibilities and establishes that work was the reasonable cause of the injury, this should pass muster.

Freeman v. Con-Agra Frozen Foods, 344 Ark. 296, 303, 40 S.W.3d 760, 765 (2001).

         An employer takes an employee as it finds him, and employment circumstances that aggravate preexisting conditions are compensable. Heritage Baptist Temple v. Robison, 82 Ark.App. 460, 120 S.W.3d 150 (2003). When a workplace injury aggravates a preexisting condition, then the aggravating injury is compensable. Oliver v. Guardsmark, Inc., 68 Ark.App. 24, 3 S.W.3d 336 (1999). Of course, because an aggravation is itself a new injury with an independent cause, the alleged aggravating ...

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