Closet Maid v. Sykes, No. 1D98-660.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation763 So.2d 377
PartiesCLOSET MAID and Crawford and Company, Appellants, v. Wallace D. SYKES, Appellee.
Decision Date15 February 2000
Docket NumberNo. 1D98-660.

763 So.2d 377

CLOSET MAID and Crawford and Company, Appellants,
v.
Wallace D. SYKES, Appellee

No. 1D98-660.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District.

February 15, 2000.


763 So.2d 379
Mark A. Massey of McConnaughhay, Duffy, Coonrod, Pope & Weaver, P.A., Ocala, for Appellants

Richard R. Crooke of Chalkley & Crooke, P.A., Ocala, and Bill McCabe of Shepherd, McCabe & Cooley, Longwood, for Appellee.

EN BANC

PER CURIAM.

Closet Maid and its servicing agent, Crawford and Company, appeal a final order awarding indemnity and medical benefits to Wallace D. Sykes, an injured worker. They contend that the judge of compensation claims erred in finding that the workplace accident was the major contributing cause of Mr. Sykes' need for back surgery. To resolve this controversy we must define the major contributing cause requirement and state the applicable standard of proof. We have addressed these issues here, but because the judge of compensation claims did not have the benefit of this opinion or any other controlling precedent, we remand the case for further consideration.

Mr. Sykes was employed by Closet Maid as a warehouseman in the receiving department. As a part of this job, he typically operated a forklift and unloaded heavy items by hand. He was unloading a pallet of boxes on May, 16, 1996, when a box fell and struck him on the head, forcing him down on one knee. Following the accident, Mr. Sykes suffered back and neck pain. Closet Maid and its servicing agent accepted the accident as compensable and agreed to pay temporary disability benefits. They also authorized medical care by Doctor Barry Kaplan, a neurosurgeon.

Medical testing revealed that Mr. Sykes had a pre-existing medical condition known

763 So.2d 380
as spinal stenosis. This condition is a form of arthritis of the spinal canal. It is a congenital disease which is also degenerative, in that it usually gets worse with age and deterioration of the spine. In some cases, a traumatic injury to the spine provides the first indication that a person has spinal stenosis. As Dr. Kaplan explained, the "spinal column is compromised by arthritis" and "when the back is wrenched, the nerves that are in the low back can get bruised against the bone spurs."

Until he was injured at work, Mr. Sykes was not aware of the fact that he had spinal stenosis. He was forty-seven years old at the time of the accident and had worked for more than twenty years in manual labor positions, some more physically demanding than his job at Closet Maid. During that time, he had experienced no significant back pain or disability. He had worked for Closet Maid for three and one-half years and, before his injury in the warehouse, he had not missed a day of work.

Dr. Kaplan first recommended a conservative course of treatment including physical therapy and restrictions on lifting. This proved ineffective, however, in that it did not alleviate the pain. Mr. Sykes lost forty-five pounds in an effort to improve his condition but the weight loss also failed to reduce the pain. On January 21, 1997, Dr. Kaplan recommended a lumbar laminectomy surgery. At that point, Dr. Kaplan said that there was little else he could do to ease Mr. Sykes' back pain.

Crawford and Company refused to pay for the surgery Dr. Kaplan recommended. By then Crawford and Company had also stopped paying Mr. Sykes temporary disability payments and had begun to pay him impairment benefits based on a three percent impairment rating. The temporary disability payments ceased on December 31, 1996, after Dr. Kaplan notified Crawford and Company that Mr. Sykes was at maximum medical improvement without the surgery. On April 27, 1997, Mr. Sykes filed a petition for benefits seeking authorization for the surgery and temporary disability benefits from December 31, 1996 through the future date of his maximum medical improvement.

Dr. Kaplan allocated seventy-five percent of Mr. Sykes'"condition," and the resulting impairment, to the pre-existing spinal stenosis, and twenty-five percent to the accident at work. Dr. Kaplan also expressed the view that the pre-existing problem was the "major contributing cause" of the disability and need for medical treatment, and indicated that he felt that Mr. Sykes probably would have needed surgery at some time in the future even had the workplace accident not occurred. But Dr. Kaplan could not say whether surgery would have been required at any time in the near future, and explained that his recommendation for surgery at the present time was precipitated by Mr. Sykes' pain, as resulting from the effects of the accident rather than the underlying deficiency in the spinal column.

Following the hearing on the petition for benefits, the judge of compensation claims found that the workplace accident was the major contributing cause of Mr. Sykes' need for back surgery. The judge relied on the substance of Dr. Kaplan's medical testimony rather than the doctor's conclusory assertion regarding major contributing cause. The judge also relied on Mr. Sykes' long history of performing manual labor and the fact that he had not experienced back pain or disability before the accident. The evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence led the judge to conclude that Mr. Sykes had established the legal requirement of major contributing cause.

Based on these findings, the judge of compensation claims rendered a final order directing Crawford and Company to pay for the back surgery Dr. Kaplan had recommended and to pay Mr. Sykes temporary partial disability benefits from December 31, 1996 until the future date of his maximum medical improvement. Closet

763 So.2d 381
Maid and Crawford and Company then filed a timely notice of appeal to review the final order in this court

We begin by examining section 440.09(1)(b), Florida Statutes (Supp.1994), which defines the coverage that is available to an injured worker if medical treatment is required by the combination of a compensable workplace accident and a pre-existing disease or condition. According to this statute:

If an injury arising out of and in the course of employment combines with a preexisting disease or condition to cause or prolong disability or need for treatment, the employer must pay compensation or benefits required by this chapter only to the extent that the injury arising out of and in the course of employment is and remains the major contributing cause of the disability or need for treatment.

§ 440.09(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (Supp.1994).1 It is thus no longer enough for an injured worker to show that a workplace accident is causally related a particular injury, as in Reynolds v. Whitney Tank Lines, 279 So.2d 293 (Fla.1973), or that the accident contributed to the need for treatment. Coverage is available under the statute only if the workplace accident "is and remains the major contributing cause of the disability or need for treatment."

Whether the judge of compensation claims properly awarded medical benefits in this case depends on the meaning of the phrase "major contributing cause." When interpreting a statute, the court must look first to the plain meaning of the terms used in the statute itself. See Moonlit Waters Apartments, Inc. v. Cauley, 666 So.2d 898 (Fla.1996); Acosta v. Richter, 671 So.2d 149 (1996). If the language and meaning are clear, the court must interpret the statute according to the ordinary meaning of its terms, and may not resort to extrinsic aides to statutory construction. See McLaughlin v. State, 721 So.2d 1170 (Fla.1998); Rhodes v. State, 704 So.2d 1080 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997).

Although the phrase "major contributing cause" is not defined in the Workers' Compensation Law, the meaning of this phrase is sufficiently clear from the language of section 440.09(1)(b), Florida Statutes (Supp.1994). The first definition of the term "major" listed in nearly all dictionaries is "greater in dignity, rank, importance, or interest." See, e.g., Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary, Unabridged (1971); see also L.B. v. State, 700 So.2d 370 (Fla.1997)(noting that the courts may refer to dictionary definitions to ascertain the plain meaning of a term used in a statute). It follows that if there are two causes for a disability or the need for treatment, the workplace accident must be the "greater" of the two causes. Section 440.09(1)(b) employs the definite article "the" to modify the phrase "major contributing cause." Hence, the statute is not satisfied merely by showing that the workplace accident is among the major causes. The use of the term "the" plainly signifies that the workplace accident must be greater than any other cause contributing to the disability or need for treatment. See Orange County MIS Department v. Hak, 710 So.2d 998 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998).

Given this interpretation of the phrase "major contributing cause" in section 440.09(1)(b), Florida Statutes (Supp. 1994), we conclude that coverage is available if the workplace accident contributes more to the disability or need for treatment than any other single cause. This does not mean, however, that the workplace accident must be a greater cause than all other causes combined. Such an interpretation would impose a requirement beyond that which is stated in the statute.

763 So.2d 382
The courts have judicial power to interpret statutes, but that power cannot be used as a license to assume the prerogative of the legislature. See Hancock v. Board of Public Instruction, 158 So.2d 519 (Fla.1963). Hence, we do not read into section 440.09(1)(b) a requirement that the industrial accident must account for more than fifty percent of the need for benefits. Instead, by the terms of the statute, the workplace accident must be greater in significance than any other single cause

Although the major contributing cause standard in section 440.09(1)(b) requires the judge of compensation claims to determine relative degrees of causation, the method of proving...

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30 practice notes
  • Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, No. 1D12–3563.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 23, 2013
    ...440.09(1)(b) were intended to “overrule” this court's interpretation of the phrase “major contributing cause” in Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (en banc)); Dep't of Health v. Merritt, 919 So.2d 561, 564 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006) (recognizing that the 2003 amendments to ch......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...783 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Sailor v. State, 733 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DC......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...783 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Sailor v. State, 733 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DC......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...demonstrates a causal relationship between the claimant's injury and employment with the appropriate quantum of proof."); Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377, 383 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.2000) (same for "reasonable medical certainty"); Jensen v. City of Pocatello, 135 Idaho 406, 18 P.3d 211 (2000) (holdi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, No. 1D12–3563.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 23, 2013
    ...440.09(1)(b) were intended to “overrule” this court's interpretation of the phrase “major contributing cause” in Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (en banc)); Dep't of Health v. Merritt, 919 So.2d 561, 564 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006) (recognizing that the 2003 amendments to ch......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...783 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Sailor v. State, 733 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DC......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...783 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Closet Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision); Sailor v. State, 733 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DC......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...demonstrates a causal relationship between the claimant's injury and employment with the appropriate quantum of proof."); Maid v. Sykes, 763 So.2d 377, 383 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.2000) (same for "reasonable medical certainty"); Jensen v. City of Pocatello, 135 Idaho 406, 18 P.3d 211 (2000) (holdi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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