Landers v. Chrysler Corp.

Decision Date09 December 1997
Docket NumberNo. 72028,72028
Citation963 S.W.2d 275
PartiesDoyle LANDERS, Employee/Respondent, v. CHRYSLER CORPORATION, Employer/Self-Insured/Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Paul D. Larimore, St. Louis, for appellant.

John D. Schneider, St. Louis, for respondent.

D. Scott Barash, Washington, D.C., Daniel P. Card, St. Louis, James L. McHugh, Jr., Washington, D.C., Amici Curiae, for respondent.

RHODES RUSSELL, Judge.

Chrysler Corporation ("employer") appeals from a final award of 50% permanent partial disability and future medical care entered by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission"). The issues on appeal are 1) whether the psychologist was competent to testify regarding the causal relationship between Doyle Landers' ("claimant") brain deficits and his industrial accident; 2) whether there was competent and substantial evidence to support the Commission's award of future medical care; and, 3) whether there was competent and substantial evidence to support the award of 50% permanent partial disability. We affirm.

The evidence reflects that claimant, an auto worker, was injured on September 13, 1989, in a work-related accident. On the date of the accident, claimant was hit on the top of the head by a skyhook while loading engines at employer's plant. Upon being struck, claimant fell to his knees. Claimant remembered going to his knees, but other than what he was told by his fellow employees, he could not recall much. Claimant was treated at the employer's dispensary shortly after the accident. The dispensary records indicate that claimant had a wobbly gait, was complaining of tingling sensations in his extremities, seemed dazed with complaints of neck pain, had blurred vision, and had difficulty remembering his department and home phone number.

Claimant's neck was immobilized and he was conveyed to St. Joseph's Hospital where he was admitted for seven days. The admitting physician diagnosed claimant as having a cerebral concussion with post concussion syndrome and a scalp laceration. Dr. David Wilkinson, a neurosurgeon, concluded that claimant had sustained a concussion. Dr. Wilkinson noted that a CT scan of claimant's head appeared to be normal. Dr. Wilkinson's admission note stated that claimant was admitted primarily for observation and treatment for a cerebral concussion and possible cord contusion.

Claimant was examined by Dr. Wilkinson on September 14, 1989. At that time, he was complaining of headache, photophobia, ataxia, scotomata, and vertigo. A MRI scan of claimant's brain was performed and was interpreted as being within normal limits. Dr. Wilkinson's final diagnosis was that claimant had a cerebral concussion, post concussion syndrome, cervical sprain with cervical spur, and a scalp laceration. Claimant was subsequently discharged from the hospital on September 20, 1989.

On September 29, 1989, claimant saw Dr. Wilkinson for a follow-up examination. Dr. Wilkinson found claimant totally incapacitated for an indefinite period of time and directed that claimant remain off work.

Following his appointment with Dr. Wilkinson, employer's claim's manager referred claimant to Dr. Patrick Hogan. On October 4, 1989, Dr. Hogan performed a neurological examination of claimant. Claimant informed Dr. Hogan that since his accident he had headaches, felt dizzy three to four times a day, and bright lights bothered his eyes. After completing the examination, Dr. Hogan's diagnosis was head injury, with complications of headaches and light-headedness. Dr. Hogan noted that the CT scan of claimant's head was normal.

After returning back to work on October 17, 1989, claimant complained of headaches, nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and ataxia. On October 25, 1989, claimant reported to the dispensary complaining of dizziness. The dispensary records indicated that claimant was slurring his words and that his response to questions was slow.

Following the accident and his return to work, claimant stated that he suffered from nervousness, anxiety, depression, loss of concentration, and headaches. Fellow employees reported that after the accident, claimant could not keep up on his job, seemed confused, and missed a lot of operations. After the accident, claimant was putting the wrong engine on the line three to four times a day. Claimant's co-workers stated that they worked to catch his mistakes and to cover for him before his supervisor caught him. Other employees stated that after the accident claimant's speech was slower and it was difficult to carry on a conversation with him.

Claimant's wife testified that after the accident claimant could not think of words and was slow to express himself. She stated that claimant suffered from headaches and would keep to himself in a dark room. Claimant's wife stated that after the accident claimant would get very angry over nothing and would exhibit "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" mood swings. She noted that claimant's family and friends would not come around anymore because of his temper.

Based on these complaints, claimant was referred by his attorney to see Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald, a clinical psychologist. In September and October of 1990, Dr. Fitzgerald performed a series of neuropsychological tests on claimant. Based on these tests, Dr. Fitzgerald concluded that claimant sustained a closed head injury which resulted in impaired retention and memory, poor concentration and attention, inability to sequence, and emotional liability and fatiguability. It was Dr. Fitzgerald's opinion that if claimant ever lost his present job he would not be employable on the open and competitive labor market because of the above mentioned deficits. Dr. Fitzgerald opined that claimant sustained a 75-80% permanent partial disability as a result of the head injury sustained in his work-related accident.

Claimant was also examined by Dr. Richard Wetzel, a clinical psychologist who practiced neuropsychology. Dr. Wetzel examined claimant in June of 1992, and reexamined him on September 5, 1995. Dr. Wetzel performed a battery of cognitive tests including intelligence tests, memory tests, tests for concentration and attention, tests for verbal skills, and tests for visual perceptual abilities. Based on the results of these tests and interviews with claimant and his wife, Dr. Wetzel concluded that claimant had sustained brain dysfunction and depression as a result of the blow to his head on September 13, 1989. Dr. Wetzel diagnosed claimant as having a lesion in his brain as a result of the accident. Dr. Wetzel found that claimant had cognitive deficits that affected his ability to attend what he was doing or saying, to learn or remember, to communicate with others, and to control his emotional reaction to others. Based on his testing, Dr. Wetzel concluded that claimant was 75% disabled in his body as a whole as a result of the cognitive impairments caused by the blow to his head.

Dr. Hogan and Dr. Wayne Stillings, on behalf of employer, rendered opinions. Dr. Hogan opined that claimant did not suffer a concussion as a result of his accident on September 13, 1989, and that claimant's complaints of loss of memory and concentration, inability to express himself, and depression were not the result of the accident. It was Dr. Hogan's opinion that claimant had a 5-8% permanent partial disability based upon claimant's subjective complaints. According to Dr. Hogan, claimant's injury in no way prohibited him from performing any or all work duties which he was qualified for, without limitation or restriction. Dr. Hogan opined that claimant would not need further medical treatment as a result of the accident based upon the negative neurological examinations and the fact that claimant was able to perform his duties for two years following his accident.

Dr. Stillings examined claimant on behalf of employer and determined that claimant did not suffer a concussion nor a permanent brain injury. Dr. Stillings also determined that claimant did not suffer any psychological injury and that claimant did not need any psychiatric treatment as a result of the accident. Based on his examination, Dr. Stillings concluded that claimant sustained a 0% permanent partial disability as a result of the accident.

Hearings were held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ issued findings of fact and rulings of law on November 2, 1995, concluding that claimant's complaints of memory loss, inability to perform his job properly, personality changes, concentration problems, speech problems, and depression were causally related to the work-related injury on September 13, 1989. The ALJ found that claimant sustained a 50% permanent partial disability measured at the level of the body as a whole as a result of the work-related injury. The ALJ also determined that claimant was entitled to future medical care to cure and relieve the continuing depression brought about as the result of the accident.

Employer filed an application for review with the Commission. The Commission entered a final award affirming the award of the ALJ. This appeal follows.

In its first point, employer argues that the Commission erred as a matter of law in ruling that claimant's alleged brain deficits were medically causally related to his September 13, 1989 accident. Employer contends that this ruling is not supported by any competent or substantial evidence in that the only evidence presented by claimant regarding causation was that of two clinical psychologists. Employer maintains that the psychologists, since they were not medical doctors, were not competent or qualified to render an opinion regarding whether claimant's alleged brain deficits were medically-causally related to his accident. According to employer, since the clinical psychologists were not competent to testify...

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