Blair v. Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc.

Decision Date24 January 1980
Docket NumberNo. 11252,11252
Citation593 S.W.2d 650
PartiesRonald S. BLAIR, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. ASSOCIATED WHOLESALE GROCERS, INC., and Allstate Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Raymond E. Whiteaker, Woolsey, Fisher, Whiteaker & Stenger, Springfield, for defendants-appellants.

Paul D. Rittershouse, Daniel, Clampett, Rittershouse, Dalton & Powell, Springfield, for plaintiff-respondent.

FLANIGAN, Chief Judge.

Ronald S. Blair filed a claim for compensation under the Missouri Workmen's Compensation Law, § 287.010-s 287.800, 1 against his employer, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc., and its insurer, based on injuries arising out of an accident which occurred on May 31, 1974.

Among the facts agreed to by the parties were the following: On May 31, 1974, the employer was operating under the provisions of the compensation law with its liability insured by the insurer; on that date Blair was an employee of the employer, was working under the provisions of the law, and sustained an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment; employer had notice of the injury; Blair's average weekly wage entitled him to the maximum benefits for temporary total disability and permanent partial disability; no compensation had been paid; the employer provided medical aid in the amount of $68.60 which was paid for on July 8, 1974; Blair incurred reasonable and necessary medical expenses in the amount of $3,004.13.

The referee found in favor of the employer and insurer and awarded no compensation. Blair appealed to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. The commission reversed the award of the referee and awarded Blair $1,970 for temporary total disability, $6,500 for permanent partial disability, and held that the employer and insurer were liable for the payment of Blair's medical expenses. On appeal to the circuit court by the employer and insurer, the award of the commission was affirmed. The employer and insurer appeal.

On this appeal this court must determine if the award of the commission, rather than that of the referee, is supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the whole record. All of the evidence and legitimate inferences arising therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the award. This court may not substitute its judgment for that of the commission. The award may be set aside only if there is no substantial and competent evidence to support it or if the findings of the commission are clearly contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Pulliam v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 558 S.W.2d 693, 697(1-4) (Mo.App.1977). Conflicts in the evidence are for resolution by the commission. Skinner v. Dawson Metal Products, 575 S.W.2d 935, 938(2) (Mo.App.1978).

Appellants' first contention is that the claim is barred by the one-year limitation contained in § 287.430. In general that statute requires that a compensation claim be filed within one year after the injury (May 31, 1974) or within one year after the filing by the employer of the report of injury (July 8, 1974) "or in case payments have been made on account of the injury . . . , within one year from the date of the last payment."

Section 287.430 is a statute of repose and the statutory period is subject to being tolled by any payment made on account of the injury. Skinner v. Dawson Metal Products, supra, 575 S.W.2d at 941(12). The furnishing of medical aid by the employer constitutes "payment" made on account of the injury, within the language of the statute, Reichert v. Jerry Reece, Inc., 504 S.W.2d 182, 189(16) (Mo.App.1973); Bryant v. Montgomery Ward & Company, 416 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Mo.App.1967); and, as Bryant points out, it is immaterial whether the treatment is furnished under compulsion of law or is voluntarily furnished after the expiration of the time over which the employer's statutory liability for medical treatment extends. If the employer or insurer has made itself legally liable for the medical aid, it is of no significance that the doctor or hospital has not received actual payment. Cotton v. Voss Truck Lines, Inc., 392 S.W.2d 428, 430(2) (Mo.App.1965). Medical aid furnished by the employer after the one-year period provided by § 287.430 has elapsed revives the employee's right of action and a claim filed within one year after the date the aid was furnished is timely. Welborn v. Southern Equipment Co., 395 S.W.2d 119, 124 (Mo. banc 1965).

On the day of the accident Blair reported the matter to Charles Lawson, his foreman. Lawson made out an accident report and sent Blair to Dr. Lowe, the "company doctor," who treated him. On June 20, 1974, Dr. Lowe released Blair to go back to work and Blair did so. Blair received no additional medical treatment until September 1975.

The claim was filed on February 10, 1976. Rejecting the defense that the claim was barred by § 287.430, the commission found that the filing was timely for the reason that in September 1975 Lawson authorized Blair to obtain medical treatment and Blair did so that month.

Blair's evidence showed that in September 1975 Blair, while at work, informed Lawson that his back was still bothering him and that it had been bothering him since the date of the accident. Blair told Lawson that he needed to go back to Dr. Lowe and Lawson gave him permission to do so. 2 After examining Blair, Dr. Lowe informed him that his condition was "something out of his area" and referred Blair to Dr. VanHook. Dr. VanHook examined Blair and referred him to Dr. Whitlock. Blair received conservative treatment from Dr. Whitlock for several months and in February 1976 underwent an operation performed by Dr. Whitlock. Blair's return visit to Dr. Lowe, and his initial visits to the other two doctors, occurred in September 1975.

Appellants have never questioned, and do not question here, the authority of Lawson to send Blair back to Dr. Lowe in September 1975, nor do appellants question the authority of Dr. Lowe to refer Blair to Dr. VanHook, nor the authority of the latter to refer Blair to Dr. Whitlock. 3

Appellants argue that Blair's testimony, concerning his conversation with Lawson in September 1975 authorizing Blair's return to Dr. Lowe, was not substantial enough to support the finding of the commission because it conflicted with testimony of Lawson on the issue of whether such a conversation took place and also conflicted with the testimony of the employer's record keeper, Kathy Craig. Mrs. Craig testified that her records contained no entry concerning Blair's conversation with Lawson and that there would have been such an entry if Lawson had reported that conversation to her.

As the commission noted, Lawson's testimony showed that he had "little independent recollection" of the matter. On cross-examination by claimant's counsel, Lawson admitted that his memory was vague; that his job as foreman involved "a big operation"; that he "talks with people 100 times a day about what is going on and what isn't going on." Lawson admitted that in October 1975 Blair told him he wanted to see a doctor. It is a reasonable inference that the failure of Mrs. Craig's records to reflect the conversation between Blair and Lawson could be due to the fact that Lawson forgot to report the matter to Mrs. Craig rather than to the fact that no such conversation took place.

Appellants point out that the history contained in the report of Dr. VanHook makes no mention of the accident and argue that this fact casts doubt upon Blair's credibility with regard to the Blair-Lawson conversation in 1975. Appellants make substantially the same argument with respect to the initial history given by Blair to Dr. Whitlock. This argument is based upon a statement of Dr. Whitlock, during his trial testimony, that "the history was of a spontaneous back pain which had occurred over a month and a half before, with symptoms in his left lower extremity of approximately the same amount of time." That history was obtained on September 23, 1975. Whether or not that statement contained All of the history is not clear and one written report of Dr. Whitlock mentions the accident of May 31, 1974, and states that the information came from Blair.

Appellants place their principal reliance upon Duncan v. A. P. Green Refractories Company, 522 S.W.2d 639 (Mo.App.1975). In that case the employee claimed that he was accidentally injured at work on September 11, 1970, and that he reported the matter to his supervisor. No other evidence supported those assertions. The court of appeals held that the following constituted "an overwhelming mass of contrary evidence": the...

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