Ex Parte Mitchell, 1060356.

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation989 So.2d 1083
Docket Number1060356.
PartiesEx parte William Earl MITCHELL. (In re Perry & Williams, Inc. v. William Earl Mitchell)
Decision Date25 January 2008
989 So.2d 1083
Ex parte William Earl MITCHELL.
(In re Perry & Williams, Inc.
v.
William Earl Mitchell)
1060356.
Supreme Court of Alabama.
January 25, 2008.

[989 So.2d 1084]

J. Greg Allen of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., Montgomery, for petitioner.

William H. Webster of Webster, Henry, Lyons & White, P.C., Montgomery, for respondent.

BOLIN, Justice.


In November 2005, William Earl Mitchell filed a motion in the trial court asking the court to award him a motorized scooter and a lift to put the scooter on his vehicle under a previous workers' compensation judgment that left open the issue of future medical benefits. The trial court granted Mitchell's motion. Relying on this Court's decision in Ex parte City of Guntersville, 728 So.2d 611 (Ala.1998), the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court awarding Mitchell the scooter and the lift. See Perry & Williams, Inc. v. Mitchell, 989 So.2d 1074 (Ala.Civ.App. 2006). This Court held in Ex parte City of Guntersville that a van was not a device

989 So.2d 1085

that served to improve a disabled employee's condition and, therefore, did not come within the meaning of the term "other apparatus" under § 25-5-77(a), Ala.Code 1975. We granted Mitchell's petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether this Court's holding in Ex parte City of Guntersville should be clarified or overruled.

Factual and Procedural Background

On May 11, 1999, the Montgomery Circuit Court entered a judgment finding that Mitchell had suffered a compensable injury in July 1996, caused by inhaling toxic fumes during the course of his employment with Perry & Williams, Inc. The trial court awarded Mitchell workers' compensation benefits in accordance with the Workers' Compensation Act, § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala.Code 1975 ("the Act"). The trial court specified in its judgment that Mitchell's right to any future medical benefits would remain open pursuant to the Act. See § 25-5-77, Ala.Code 1975.

On November 10, 2005, Mitchell moved the trial court to enforce the medical-benefits provision of the May 1999 workers' compensation judgment, alleging that his medical condition had deteriorated, that he was in "need of a scooter and a lift for the scooter for mobility," and that Perry & Williams should pay for the expenses associated with the purchase of the scooter and the lift.

Perry & Williams responded to Mitchell's motion, disputing that the scooter and the lift were properly payable medical benefits under § 25-5-77(a), Ala.Code 1975, which mandates that the employer provide "reasonably necessary medical and surgical treatment and attention, physical rehabilitation, medicine, medical and surgical supplies, crutches, artificial members, and other apparatus as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment ...." Perry & Williams argued that based on this Court's holding in Ex parte City of Guntersville, supra, the scooter and the lift did not constitute "other apparatus" so as to be a compensable medical expense under § 25-5-77(a), because the scooter and the lift were merely to assist Mitchell with his mobility and did not improve his medical condition. Perry & Williams also argued that Mitchell's alleged need for a scooter and a lift was not related to his workers' compensation injury, but was related to other medical conditions from which Mitchell also suffered. In support of their position, Perry & Williams presented the affidavits of Mitchell's treating physicians, Dr. Mont F. Highley III and Dr. William P. Saliski, Jr. Dr. Highley stated as follows in his affidavit:

"I am a licensed physician practicing in the field of family medicine. In my position as a physician, I have had the opportunity to treat William Earl Mitchell, the plaintiff in the above styled action.

"In my professional opinion, Mr. Mitchell's medical condition is such that I believe he would benefit from a scooter and lift. It is further my opinion that the scooter and lift would assist his mobility and function, but would not be expected or intended to improve his medical condition.

"As for defining the specific conditions that have caused or contributed to Mr. Mitchell's need for a scooter and lift, I defer my opinion to that of Dr. William Saliski, to whom I have referred Mr. Mitchell for further assessment and treatment."

Dr. Saliski testified as follows in his affidavit:

"I am a licensed physician practicing in the field of pulmonology. In my position

989 So.2d 1086

as a physician, I have had the opportunity to treat William Earl Mitchell, the plaintiff in the above styled action.

"I am aware that Mr. Mitchell is interested in obtaining a scooter and lift. In my professional opinion, any benefit that Mr. Mitchell would gain from a scooter and lift would be to assist his mobility and function. The scooter and lift would not in any way improve his medical condition.

"It is my professional opinion that Mr. Mitchell's need for a scooter and lift is unrelated to his workers' compensation injury; his need for a scooter and lift was not as the result of his workers' compensation injury and the injury neither caused nor contributed to his perceived need for those items. Instead, it is my opinion that any need Mr. Mitchell has for a scooter and lift is secondary to his diabetes, morbid obesity, severe cardiac disease, and history of smoking."

Mitchell responded to Perry & Williams's response by submitting on December 15, 2005, a second affidavit of Dr. Highley, which addressed the issue of causation. Dr. Highley testified in his second affidavit as follows:

"Mr. Mitchell has been disabled for many years because of pulmonary fibrosis. His lung condition is related to an on-the-job exposure in my opinion.

"He has recently developed severe aortic stenosis. He initially was approved for a scooter to help him with his mobility. However, the development of the aortic stenosis and the issue of the ideology of his disability became clouded. However, it is my feeling that the patient has sufficient disability on the basis of his lung disease to warrant a scooter. I think the fact that he has aortic stenosis is probably unrelated, but his lungs are unquestionably severely diseased to the point where he is on oxygen on a constant basis. It is my opinion that he should be approved for a scooter and a lift to put the scooter on his car to increase his mobility and decrease his dependence on others."

On January 13, 2006, the trial court entered an order requiring Perry & Williams to provide Mitchell with the requested scooter and lift, finding that they were "other apparatus" covered under § 25-5-77(a). The trial court's order reads, in part, as follows:

"The question at bar is whether the requested `scooter and lift' are required under § 25-5-77(a), Ala.Code (1975), which in pertinent part states, an employer is responsible for paying only those medical benefits that are associated with,

"`reasonably necessary medical ... treatment and attention, physical rehabilitation ... medical ... supplies, crutches, artificial members, and other apparatus as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment.'

"The plaintiff contends that the scooter and lift are covered within the broad mandate of the statute.

"Two treating physicians have provided affidavits in this action. Dr. Saliski has provided an affidavit to the defendant signed December 8, 2005. Dr. Highley has provided affidavits to both the plaintiff and defendant. Dr. Highley's affidavit to the defendant is signed December 13, 2005. Dr. Highley's affidavit to the plaintiff is signed December 15, 2005.

"Dr. Saliski, in his affidavit to the defendant states,

"`In my professional opinion, any benefit that Mr. Mitchell would gain from a scooter and lift would be to assist his mobility and function. The scooter

989 So.2d 1087

and lift would not in any way improve his medical condition.'

"Dr. Highley in his affidavit to the defendant, states,

"`In my professional opinion, Mr. Mitchell's medical condition is such that I believe he would benefit from a scooter and lift. It is further my opinion that the scooter and lift would assist his mobility and function, but would not be expected or intended to improve his medical condition.'

"Dr. Highley in his affidavit to the plaintiff states,

"`Mr. Mitchell has been disabled for many years because of pulmonary fibrosis. His lung condition is related to an on-the-job exposure in my opinion.

"`He has recently developed severe aortic stenosis. He initially was approved for a scooter to help him with his mobility. However, the development of the aortic stenosis and the issue of the ideology of his disability became clouded. However, it is my feeling that the patient has sufficient disability on the basis of his lung disease to warrant a scooter.'

"While Dr. Highley's and Dr. Saliski's affidavits for the defendant are consistent and parallel, however, Dr. Highley's affidavits for the plaintiff state a distinct opinion from his and Dr. Saliski's affidavits for the defendant. It was represented in open court by plaintiff's attorney that Dr. Highley has been plaintiff's long-time treating physician and would have more knowledge of plaintiff's condition than Dr. Saliski, who only saw plaintiff one time for approximately one and one-half hour. The defendant does not dispute this representation. While it is no question that both doctors are credible, however, it is reasonable to accept the long term treating physician's latest conclusion as more persuasive on the need for the scooter and lift. Dr. Highley's latest conclusion is that a scooter is warranted. Thus, if the scooter is warranted, so is the lift."

Perry & Williams argued on appeal to the Court of Civil Appeals that the scooter and the lift were not "other apparatus" that was "reasonably necessary ... as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of the...

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