Turner v. G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hosp.

Decision Date18 May 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-673,91-673
Citation600 So.2d 1153
PartiesFred A. TURNER, Appellant, v. G. PIERCE WOOD MEMORIAL HOSPITAL and State of Florida, Division of Risk Management, Appellees. 600 So.2d 1153, 17 Fla. L. Week. D1326
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Brian O. Sutter of Wilkins, Frohlich, Jones, Hevia & Russell, P.A., Port Charlotte, and Bill McCabe of Shepherd, McCabe & Cooley, Longwood, for appellant.

Donald A. Stewart of Harkavy, Mitchell, Stewart & Lovesky, P.A., Sarasota, for appellees.

ZEHMER, Judge.

Fred Turner appeals an order denying his claim for workers' compensation benefits, raising six points in support of reversal. As we reverse and remand for further proceedings on the first two points, we do not reach the remainder.

Claimant was employed by G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hospital, a mental health hospital, as a human service worker II. His duties included assisting patients, accompanying patients to certain places in the hospital, and preventing patients from attacking other patients and workers. While working on December 3, 1985, claimant was attacked by a psychiatric patient and sustained arm, neck and shoulder injuries. After receiving medical treatment for these injuries, claimant returned to work, initially limiting his duties to desk work. He eventually resumed his duties as a human service worker, however, and on January 8, 1990, he was again attacked by a patient, this time suffering an injury to his face. A few days after receiving medical treatment for this injury, claimant returned to work and continued working until March 11, 1990, when he was voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric center of a hospital in Punta Gorda with a diagnosis of depression and alcohol abuse. Upon discharge from this hospital on March 30, 1990, claimant did not return to work with employer and submitted a letter of resignation effective May 18, 1990, which his employer accepted. His reason for resigning set forth in the letter was that the position as human service worker was too stressful, that he felt insecure in the position because of the number of injuries he had suffered while working at the hospital, 1 and that claimant's counselor, out of concern for claimant's health, had recommended that he resign from that position.

Claimant then employed the services of a lawyer and, on June 8, 1990, filed a claim for compensation benefits and medical expenses arising out of the December 1985 accident. This claim was amended on July 23, 1990, to seek, in addition, benefits for injury arising out of the January 1990 accident. Employer and carrier moved to dismiss the claims arising out of the 1985 accident on the grounds that: (1) more than two years had passed since employer and servicing agent provided last medical treatment and compensation for disability rehabilitation impairment or wage loss arising out of that accident; (2) a report from Dr. Baker, dated May 27, 1988, stated that claimant had reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) from that accident with no impairment; and (3) claimant did not file any claim with regard to medical rehabilitation or other type of benefits until July 23, 1990, 2 more than two years after claimant had received any benefits for that accident.

On February 12, 1991, the judge of compensation claims entered the appealed order denying all claims for benefits under both industrial accidents. The order found that claimant sustained two compensable accidents in December 1985 and January 1990, having been assaulted by patients on both occasions. After reciting claimant's testimony about the circumstances of both accidents, the order recited that claimant

testified that as a result of each of the two accidents and also as a result of the prior accidents, that the claimant developed a psychological problem resulting from stress related to being in a work environment wherein he was exposed to assaults by different patients. The claimant related that the accident of 1/8/90 was the last of a series of accidents that subsequently caused him to have a mental breakdown on 3/11/90 resulting in a psychiatric hospitalization of 3/11/90 and treatment by Dr. Mahusey [sic]. 3 He also testified that this psychiatric problem made it impossible for him to return to work.

The order further set forth the parties' stipulation that employer and carrier "provided the last medical treatment arising from the 1985 claim on 3/16/88 and that payment for the last medical treatment by the employer/servicing agent occurred on 4/20/88." The last compensation benefit for the 1985 accident was paid on 5/26/88. The order then ruled that the claims arising out of the 1985 accident were barred by the two-year statute of limitations because the June 8, 1990, claim was filed more than two years after these two dates. The order also recited, "In making this determination, it is also noted that the claimant was placed at MMI with no impairment in accordance with the report of 5/27/88 rendered by Stephen Baker, M.D."

With respect to the claims arising out of the January 1990 accident, the order recited:

(7) As to the accident that occurred on 1/8/90, it is found that claimant was assaulted during which he received a blow to the face that required treatment by Jeff R. Comer, M.D., who subsequently determined the claimant to be at MMI on 1/10/90 by report rendered 1/18/90. The claimant then immediately returned to work and continued to work without incident until 3/11/90.

(8) On March 11, 1990, the claimant's wife called Dr. Mahusey and stated that the claimant was having severe emotional problems and was stabbing a chair in his residence. Dr. Mahusey testified by deposition that he advised that he could not help the claimant unless the claimant admitted himself into the Medical Center Hospital for in-patient treatment. The claimant and his wife then went to the hospital, and he was admitted for treatment. From the claimant's deposition, and based on the medical report of Dr. Mahusey, it is found that the claimant had been drinking very heavily prior to calling Dr. Mahusey and that the claimant also had a past alcoholic history, as well as additional family problems that he was concerned about. The claimant also testified that he had been treated for anxiety for quite a period of time prior to the incident of 3/11/90 and that he was taking medication for his anxiety previously prescribed by a Dr. Cranshaw of Arcadia, Florida.

(9) Both the claimant and Dr. Mahusey testified that no request was ever made for authorization for treatment for the claimant with regard to his hospital stay of 3/10/90 through 3/30/90, nor for subsequent treatment thereafter. The claimant further testified that he had submitted his bills for psychiatric treatment and related hospitalization under the coverage of his general health insurance rather than through workers' compensation and that his health insurance paid for the majority of his hospitalization and treatment.

(10) In connection with his psychiatric problems, the following observations are made from the exhibits attached to the deposition of Dr. Mahusey: In the Florida Retirement System Report dated 5/23/90, Dr. Mahusey states that the patient's condition is a recurrent depression which indicates to the undersigned that it was a pre-existing condition. This is evidenced by prior treatment for the same type of condition by Dr. Cranshaw. Dr. Mahusey further indicated that the claimant was at MMI as to his psychiatric condition on 5/15/90, although the doctor also noted that it was not within the doctor's capacity to determine any type of a physical impairment. The medical history of the claimant rendered by Dr. Mahusey and attached as an exhibit to the deposition is also of interest. In that history, the claimant related that he had been depressed for the last two years and that he had been taking Zanax [sic]. The doctor further related that "Fred has reason to be depressed because it is a known fact that his mother was very sick, his son is also sick and his wife has an emotional illness." The doctor further related that he was not functioning well sexually. In this report, the doctor also indicated that the depression was recurrent and that the claimant was suffering from alcohol abuse, although all of his physical signs were normal. Further, the doctor related that upon admission, the claimant was intoxicated.

(11) From all of the above, it is found that the claimant's psychological and psychiatric problems pertaining to his psychiatric hospitalization from 3/11/90 through 3/30/90 and treatment by Dr. Mahusey were not related to and did not arise out of either the accident of 12/3/85 nor the accident of 1/8/90. There is more than substantial evidence to show that the claimant's problem was a recurrent depression problem that had been ongoing for at least two years or more and was more appropriately related to alcohol abuse and personal and family problems rather than to any industrial accident.

(12) It is also noted that Dr. Mahusey indicated that the claimant could return to work, although not in an environment of unpredictable and sometimes assaultive patients....

Claimant's first point on appeal is that the findings that his psychiatric problems were due entirely to his personal problems and were not related in any way to the accidents suffered in his employment are not based on competent, substantial evidence. For the following reasons, we agree.

Generally, determination of the cause of a non-observable medical condition, such as psychiatric illness, is "essentially a medical question," Lindsay v. TVS Trucking Co., 565 So.2d 864, 866 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990), and a single medical opinion is sufficient to establish the required causation, Thomas v. Salvation Army, 562 So.2d 746 (Fla. 1st...

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