Medical Causation - Workers' Compensation Benefits - Standard of Review - § 25-5-81(E)(2), Ala. Code 1975 - Wyatt v. Baptist Health System


Wyatt v. Baptist Health System, [Ms. 2160280, July 21, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). In this unanimous decision by Judge Thomas (Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ. concur), the court affirms the circuit court’s decision denying the employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits.

Following a bench trial, the trial court “found the testimony of Dr. Gordon Kirschberg and Dr. Diane Counce ‘more well-reasoned, medically sound, and persuasive than the testimony offered by’ Dr. William Meador, ” and concluded the employee had failed to prove her condition was caused by a workplace injury. Ms. *4. In affirming, the court noted that

“in reviewing pure findings of fact, the finding of the circuit court shall not be reversed if that finding is supported by substantial evidence.” Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-81(e)(2). Therefore, this court “will review the facts in the light most favorable to the findings of the trial court.”

Ms. *4 quoting Whitsett v. BAMSI, Inc., 652 So. 2d 287, 290 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994), overruled on other grounds, Ex parte Trinity Indus., Inc., 680 So. 2d 262, 269 (Ala. 1996).

The physicians agreed that the employee suffered from transverse myelitis. However, while Dr. Meador testified that transverse myelitis can be caused by a traumatic injury, Dr. Kirschberg and Dr. Counce testified that transverse myelitis is not caused by trauma such as the twisting injury the employee testified that she suffered on the job. Ms. *11.

The employee argued that the trial court had abused its discretion “in failing to resolve all reasonable doubts and conflicting medical evidence in favor of the employee.” Ms. *17. In so arguing, the employee relied on the Conley v. SCI SYS, Inc., 495 So. 2d 698, 700 (Ala. Civ. App. 1986) for the proposition that “‘though the trial court is not bound by expert’s conclusions in workmen’s compensation cases, all reasonable doubts in the evidence must be resolved in favor of the employee.’” Ms. *17. The court held that the language relied upon by the employee from the Conley case incorrectly applied a principle applicable to the construction of the statute to the evaluation of the evidence presented in a workers’ compensation trial. To support its holding, the court quoted as follows from Ex parte Coleman, 211 Ala. 248, 249, 100 So. 114, 115 (1924):

It is of course the settled rule everywhere that these acts are to be liberally construed in favor of the workman; but this does not mean, as counsel seemed to argue, that the rule as to the measure of proof, of the sufficiency of evidence, is different from the rule in ordinary cases. The burden is on the plaintiff to reasonably satisfy the trial court that the accident arose out of and in the course of the workman’s employment, and, where there is any substantial legal evidence in support of the finding of the trial court, the judgment, whether affirmative or negative, will not be disturbed on appeal.

Ms. *20. Accordingly, because the record contained substantial medical evidence that the employee’s condition did not result from a workplace injury, the court affirmed the judgment for the employer.

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