KLLM, Inc. v. Fowler

Decision Date06 November 1991
Docket NumberNo. 91-CC-0078,91-CC-0078
Citation589 So.2d 670
CourtMississippi Supreme Court
PartiesKLLM, INC. and the Fidelity & Casualty Company of New York v. Charles E. FOWLER.

Clifford B. Ammons, Watkins & Eager, Jackson, for appellant.

R. Louis Field, Way Field & Bodron, Vicksburg, for appellee.

Before ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J., and ROBERTSON and BANKS, JJ.

BANKS, Justice, for the Court:

I.

Here we are called upon to decide whether the legislature, through its revised definition of injury in our Worker's Compensation Law, has narrowed the scope of coverage of the law. We hold that it has not, that is, that the revised definition does no more than codify existing law, at least insofar as it pertains to today's issues.

This is an appeal and cross-appeal of a Worker's Compensation Commission order dated July 19, 1990, which was affirmed by the Circuit Court by amended order dated January 4, 1991. The Commission determined that Fowler, a cross-country truck driver, sustained a compensable injury to his back. Fowler was awarded the following benefits:

(1) Temporary total disability from November 1, 1988, to January 24, 1989;

(2) Ten percent (10%) permanent partial disability beginning January 25, 1989, and continuing for 450 weeks;

(3) Medical services and supplies; and

(4) Penalties.

The employer (KLLM) and carrier (Fidelity) appeal claiming Fowler is not entitled to any benefits and raise this main issue:

WHETHER FOWLER SUSTAINED AN INJURY IN THE COURSE AND SCOPE OF HIS EMPLOYMENT WITHIN THE MEANING OF THE "NEW DEFINITION OF INJURY." MISS. CODE ANN. Sec. 71-3-3(b) (Rev.1989) 1

Fowler cross-appeals, claiming the Mississippi Worker's Compensation Commission erred in reducing his permanent partial disability award to only ten percent (10%). 2 He also argues that the amendment to section 71-3-3(b) did nothing more than codify existing law.

II.

Fowler is a cross-country truck driver, and had been so employed for over 16 years. He had been employed with KLLM for a year and a half prior to suffering the injury in question. On or about October 10th or 11th of 1988, while employed by KLLM, Fowler was driving a truck dispatched out of Jackson, Mississippi, picking up and delivering freight in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. He slept in the truck and received directions on where to pick up and deliver the freight from the company dispatcher in Jackson, Mississippi. This freight hauling trip was to last until Christmas, or approximately two and one-half months. While en route, however, he began to experience pain in his back and leg. The pain worsened and he was routed home by a KLLM dispatcher. His last day to drive a truck was October 28, 1988.

In addition to driving the truck for ten hours each day, Fowler was required to do a lot of lifting of items between 80 and 90 pounds, and a lot of bending. His duties as driver also included coupling and uncoupling of trailers. This task entailed substantial stress and strain on his back, shoulders and arms. Finally, according to Fowler, getting in and out of the truck was like climbing a ladder.

Fowler experienced his first pain following unloading cargo at South Portland, Maine, and following the uncoupling of a trailer at Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, while en route to Wisconsin. He testified that this pain began either on Monday or Tuesday, October 10th or 11th. Fowler reported the injury to Charlie Tyner, the dispatcher. The dispatcher then routed him home by changing freight pick up and deliveries.

Fowler arrived in Jackson on October 28, 1988. He went to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Vicksburg. He was referred by the emergency room doctor to Dr. Daniel P. Dare, an orthopedic surgeon of the Street Clinic in Vicksburg, who performed surgery on November 9, 1988. Physical findings revealed a large extruded fragment of disc up under his left S-1 root. The surgery, labeled a laminotomy or a hemilaminectomy, resulted in the removal of the fragment and the entire disc.

He was discharged from the hospital two days following surgery and continued as an out-patient of Dr. Dare. Dr. Dare released him on January 24, 1989, as having reached maximum medical recovery with a ten percent (10%) permanent partial disability. Dr. Dare testified that Fowler, because of the injury, would not be able to resume his duties as a cross-country freight truck driver.

Fowler testified that he continued to have pain when walking, sitting, bending and lifting, and was unable to fully perform all of the functions required of him as a truck driver. He related his efforts thereafter to get a job: "[I] filled out applications at the ... Mississippi State Employment Office, Petro Resources, Ergon, Middle Transport ... trucking firms ... at Corn Dog 7 in Pemberton Square Mall," where he was told "if you can't bend you can't work." He contacted two out-of-state trucking firms, but Fowler's efforts went unrewarded.

Cynthia Tucker testified that Fowler was a part-time worker at River City Antiques, a furniture auction where she worked, and was able, prior to his injury, to do everything necessary to move and refinish furniture. She testified that following his injury, he could not perform any of these functions. He could not lift furniture, could not bend over to pick up anything, or stoop, and he was slow in all of his movements, including walking. She further testified that Fowler could not get in and out of a truck. She testified to noticing what she described as severe pain when he returned on October 28, 1988, which was apparently located in the small of his back, left hip and left leg.

KLLM and Fidelity called Jeffrey Schmitz, a worker's compensation supervisor, with ten years experience in the claims business. He testified that the freight-liner truck being driven by Fowler at the time of the injury was state of the art and was equipped with an air suspended seat, also state of the art. The seat adjusted automatically to the driver's weight and was a "no jolt seat."

The employer and carrier also called Dr. Randall Thomas, a psychologist and rehabilitation counselor from Jackson, Mississippi. Thomas never spoke to Fowler. His testimony was based upon a review of Fowler's medical records and a test drive that he took in the truck described to him as the one Fowler drove. He described the ride as smooth. 3

The Administrative Judge entered an order dated October 27, 1989 wherein he made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

Having considered the evidence and testimony presented in this cause, I find that the preponderance of evidence supports the following findings of fact:

1. Claimant sustained an occupational injury on October 11, 1988, while driving a truck for employer and as a result of this injury he sustained a herniated disc;

2. Because of his industrial injury, claimant was temporarily totally industrially disabled from November 1, 1988, to January 24, 1989;

3. Following his injury of October 11, 1988, claimant reached maximum medical recovery on January 24, 1989;

4. Claimant has been thirty percent (30%) permanently industrially disabled since November 1, 1988;

5. Claimant's average weekly wage at the time of his injury was $377.00;

6. Since reaching his maximum level of medical recovery, claimant has made reasonable efforts to earn his pre-injury wages but has been unable to do so because of his injury 7. Statutory penalties under Mississippi Code Annotated, Section 71-3-37(5) (Supp.1989) are applicable.

He ordered the employer and carrier to pay Fowler as follows:

1. Temporary total disability benefits at the rate of $198.00 per week for the period November 1, 1988, to January 24, 1989.

2. Permanent partial disability benefits at the rate of $75.40 for the period beginning January 25, 1989, and continuing for a period not to exceed the statutory maximum of 450 weeks.

3. All medical bills and expenses claimant incurred as a result of his injury of October 11, 1988.

4. The statutory penalties under the provisions of Mississippi Code Annotated, Section 71-3-37(5) (Supp.1989).

KLLM and Fidelity appealed to the full Commission, and Fowler cross-appealed. By order dated July 19, 1990, the Full Commission affirmed in all other respects, but reduced to ten percent (10%) the permanent partial disability award because "the Commission is of the opinion that Fowler can find gainful employment if he makes reasonable efforts to do so."

III.

Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 71-3-3(b) (Rev.1989) provides:

"Injury" means accidental injury or accidental death arising out of and in the course of employment without regard to fault which results from an untoward event or events, if contributed to or aggravated or accelerated by the employment in a significant manner. Untoward event includes events causing unexpected results. An untoward event or events shall not be presumed to have arisen out of and in the course of employment, except in the case of an employee found dead in the course of employment. (Emphasis added to show amended portion)

KLLM and Fidelity argue that Fowler is foreclosed from recovery even under the old definition of injury, and certainly is not entitled to recovery under the amended version. In essence, they suggest that this case involves only the mere fact that an injury manifested itself while Fowler was on the job, and that there is no showing of anything other than the "ordinary wear and tear of life" which caused or substantially contributed to this injury. They contend there was no "exertion, strain or other problem on the job" which might have contributed to the injury.

As for the amended definition, KLLM and Fidelity contend that "untoward event" means an occurrence which is out of the ordinary, and "must have had an impact upon the worker which is extraordinary or beyond the wear and tear of every day living." They draw support from cases of mental injury unaccompanied by physical trauma which require the claimant to prove something more...

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