Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Randall Chambers, 01-424

CourtCourt of Appeals of Arkansas
Writing for the CourtAppeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Beverly W. Cutler; PER CURIAM; Cutler
Citation64 S.W.3d 775
Docket Number01-424,CA
Decision Date09 January 2002


John F. Stroud, Jr., Chief Judge

This is a workers' compensation case in which appellee, Randall Chambers, sustained an admittedly compensable injury on August 20, 1999. He was injured in a automobile accident, and as a result of those injuries both of his legs were amputated. He was fitted with prostheses, but relies primarily upon a wheelchair because he has little or no balance without the use of assisted devices and can only walk ten to fifteen feet with the use of a walker. Appellants, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Film Transit, paid to have appellee's 1986 Lincoln Continental equipped with a wheelchair rack and hand controls in spite of the fact that the prosthetic laboratory and Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute both found that these modifications would not be sufficient. The modifications were, in fact, not successful because appellee was not able to put the wheelchair on the rack and walk to the driver's side of the vehicle. Moreover, in order to drive the vehicle, he had to remove his prostheses. Consequently, appellee's wife quit her job to assist him.

Appellee contended that he was entitled to a wheelchair-accessible, hand-controlled van. Appellants countered that they were only responsible for the cost of converting a van to wheelchair accessibility, not for the van itself. They also sought credit for the hand-control/rack modifications that they had already made to appellee's car. The Commission found in favor of appellee with respect to appellant being obligated to provide a "suitable van" and the necessary modifications, and in favor of appellants with respect to being entitled to a credit against liability equal to the present value of the claimant's 1986 Lincoln. Both parties appealed. We affirm on direct- appeal and reverse on cross-appeal.

The primary issue before us on direct appeal is whether appellee is entitled to a hand-controlled, wheelchair-accessible van pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-508(a) (Repl. 1996). This statute provides:

(a) The employer shall promptly provide for an injured employee such medical, surgical, hospital, chiropractic, optometric, podiatric, and nursing services and medicine, crutches, ambulatory devices, artificial limbs, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, and other apparatus as may be reasonably necessary in connection with the injury received by the employee. (Emphasis added.)

Section 11-9-508(a) was amended by the 1993 act and no longer ties "apparatus" to medical services, but rather "other apparatus as may be reasonably necessary in connection with the injury received by the employee." The Commission determined:

At any rate, we modify the Administrative Law Judge's decision to the extent that we find the respondents liable for the cost of a suitable van (not necessarily a new van) and for the costs of van modifications. We also find that the respondents are entitled to a credit against liability equal to the present value of the claimant's 1986 Lincoln.

Moreover, as noted by at least one Commissioner, the undisputed testimony was that appellee could not afford to purchase a van; therefore, interpreting the statute as argued by appellants would essentially eliminate recovery of such benefits by appellee because he could not afford to purchase the vehicle itself. We will not overturn an administrative agency's interpretation of a statute unless it is clearly wrong. Byars Constr. Co. v. Byars, 72 Ark. App. 158, 34 S.W.3d 797 (2000). We find that the Commission's interpretation of this statute with respect to appellants' liability for providing a suitable van is not clearly wrong.

On cross-appeal, Chambers contends that the Commission erred in giving Liberty Mutual and Film Transit credit for the value of the 1986 Lincoln, which would include the cost of placing the rack and hand controls on the vehicle owned by him at the time of his injury. We reverse on cross-appeal because we find that the Commission was clearly wrong in its interpretation of Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9- 508(a) (Repl. 1996), which requires that the employer promptly provide such apparatus as may be reasonably necessary in connection with the injury received. Based upon the findings of the prosthetic laboratory and Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute, cross-appellees knew or should have known that their expenditures for modifying the Lincoln would not meet Chambers's needs. Consequently, they are not entitled to a discount for insisting upon useless measures that needlessly delayed Chambers's prompt receipt of reasonably necessary apparatus.

Affirmed on direct appeal; reversed on cross-appeal.

Griffen, Neal, Vaught, and Crabtree, JJ., agree.

Pittman, Hart, Jennings, and Bird, JJ., dissent.

John E. Jennings, Judge, dissenting. Certainly the result reached by the majority in this case is an equitable one, but the question is one of law not equity. The question is what does this statute mean. Does a specially equipped van qualify as an "other apparatus" within the meaning of the statute?

In interpreting a statute, we try to ascertain the intention of the legislature. Jackson v. Blytheville Civ. Serv. Comm'n, 345 Ark. 56, 43 S.W.3d 748 (2001). It was formerly the rule in this state, as it apparently still is in all other states, that workers' compensation statutes, being remedial legislation, should be liberally construed. In 1993, the General Assembly passed Act 796, which includes the provision at Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-704(c)(3), mandating that workers' compensation laws should now be "strictly construed." The legislature declared:

When, and if, the workers' compensation statutes of this state need to be changed, the General Assembly acknowledges its responsibility to do so. It is the specific intent of the Seventy-Ninth General Assembly to repeal, annul, and hold for naught all prior opinions or decisions of any administrative law judge, the Workers' Compensation Commission, or courts of this state contrary to or in conflict with any provision in this act. In the future, if such things as the statute of limitations, the standard of review by the Workers' Compensation Commission or courts, the extent to which any physical condition, injury, or disease should be excluded from or added to coverage by the law, or the scope...

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  • Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. Etc. v. Chambers, CA 01-424.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arkansas
    • 9 Enero 2002
    .... 64 S.W.3d 775. 76 Ark. App. 286. LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND FILM TRANSIT. v. Randall CHAMBERS. No. CA 01-424. Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Divisions I, II, and III. January 9, 2002. [64 ......

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