Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Continues to Create Issues in Workers’ Compensation Claims

On August 10, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released another decision that raises important issues for injured workers needing workers’ compensation benefits. The case deals with the huge difference in compensation under Alabama law between injuries to a single body part (often called “scheduled member” injuries) and injuries that affect the body as a whole. I could spend considerable time discussing all the issues raised by this case. Instead, I will focus on several brief points from the case:

  1. The difference between compensation for injuries that impact a workers’ whole body and injuries that only affect a single body part, can by HUGE. Make sure you address all your injuries and their complete impact on your body.
  2. If an injury to a single body part causes pain, limitations, or problems to other body parts, the Court can consider these additional issues on your disability. However, the full extent of these problems must be documented and addressed in order for the Court to consider them.
  3. Severe pain can be important. However, in addition to being severe, the full effects of the pain must be introduced into evidence.
  4. Too many attorneys ignore issues and evidence that impact whether an injury is compensated only as a “scheduled member” injury to a body part instead of an injury to the body as a whole. If you are an injured worker seeking needed compensation benefits, make sure you get legal advice from an attorney who understands workers’ compensation and is willing to go to trial in your case if needed.
  5. More and more, our appellate courts are re-weighing evidence. Non-lawyers may not understand the significance of this issue. However, the role of the trial court is to listen to all the evidence and to determine the facts. Our appeals courts should limit their review to determining whether the trial court applied the correct law. Instead, our appeals courts are increasingly deciding the evidence as well. I believe this is improper. However, understanding that the appeals court is going to carefully review all the evidence at the trial, means that attorneys should make sure ALL the evidence and ALL the trial court’s observations are included in the trial court record for review.

The case at issue is Gold Kist v. Smith. While my office in Huntsville represents only plaintiffs in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases throughout Alabama, a defense attorney in Birmingham who defends workers’ compensation claims has a pretty good brief discussion of this case on his website. This case raises more issues than it resolves. It raises additional barriers to what should be a fairly simple issue involving a trial court’s evaluation of an injured workers’ disability.

 

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