Home health nurse repeatedly stabbed: issue re total disability.
ISSUE: How quickly the worm turns! A home health nurse who was repeatedly stabbed while in the course of her employment was the object of sympathy by her employer who admitted that she was victimized in the course of her employment. However, when it came to determining whether the nurse was entitled to permanent total disability benefits, the employer sang another tune. It was not a pleasant one from the nurse's perspective.
CASE FACTS: Cynthia Meinhardt, a home-health-nurse, who was stabbed repeatedly while in the scope of her employment for SAAD's Healthcare Services, Inc., a home healthcare provider. She sought Workers' Compensation benefits for severe physical and psychological injuries she sustained under her state's Workers' Compensation Act (Act). SAAD's admitted that the nurse had sustained injuries in the scope of her employment. Following an ore tenus proceeding, the trial court entered a judgment that Nurse Meinhardt had suffered permanent and total disability on August 23, 2004. However, the trial court declined to award Meinhardt permanent total disability benefits based on its finding that Meinhardt had "unreasonably refused" to accept medical services, including both psychological and psychiatric care. The trial court determined that Meinhardt sustained a 90% physical impairment to her body as a whole and, as a result of physical and psychological injuries, had a 90% vocational disability. The trial court determined that Meinhardt had reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) on May 1, 2004. The nurse maintained that since state law provided for compensation for "permanent total disability" and that, because one could not be deemed permanently and totally disabled without first reaching MMI, the trial court's finding that she had reached MMI on May 1, 2004, precluded the application of the law. The definition of permanent total disability provides that "any employee whose disability results from an injury or impairment who shall have refused to undergo physical or vocational rehabilitation.... shall not be deemed permanently and totally disabled." The nurse argued that the penalty provision in Alabama law for refusing to undergo physical or vocational rehabilitation was not applicable since the penalty provision found in the law applied to employees who, after having reached MMI, were incapable of engaging in gainful employment before undergoing any physical or vocational rehabilitation but who would have some degree of capacity to engage in gainful employment if they underwent physical or vocational rehabilitation.
COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama affirmed the judgment of the lower court in part; reversed it in part; and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings not inconsistent with its decision. The court held, inter alia, that SAAD could not, for the first time, argue on appeal that the trial court's determination in its December 7, 2006, judgment that Meinhardt did not refuse physical or vocational rehabilitation. The court held that the court was barred by the doctrine of "the law of the case." The court held that the trial court's earlier, August 23, 2004, judgment recognizing that Meinhardt's psychiatric treatment constituted physical rehabilitation under state law, in fact, became "the law of the case."
LEGAL COMMENTARY: It is well settled as a principle of appellate law that an appellate court will not review an issue not raised in an appellant's brief, but which is raised for the first time in its reply brief. The court observed that Meinhardt had not had an opportunity to respond. Therefore, the court reasoned that it was not necessary to reach the question of whether the trial court's determination that Meinhardt did not refuse physical or vocational rehabilitation, based on the doctrine of the law of the case. The court found that the trial court's determination that Meinhardt reached MMI on May 1, 2004, precluded her from entitlement to certain benefits as of that date. The court observed that state law defined permanent total disability and provided that "any employee whose disability results from an injury or impairment and who shall have refused to undergo physical or vocational rehabilitation or to accept reasonable accommodation shall not be deemed permanently and totally disabled." Further, the court noted that the trial court concluded as a matter of law, that the employee was permanently and totally disabled. However, relying on state law, it declined to award permanent and total disability benefits to the employee because she had failed to "mitigate her damages." The trial court found that the employee had refused psychological treatment as of November 2002, and that she had refused to attend any further psychiatric appointments after March of 2003. The fact that the employee had reached MMI for her mental condition on May 1, 2004, and that she had refused treatment during a period of time before she had reached MMI, i.e., before she was entitled to any permanent benefits, necessitated that the court reverse the judgment of the trial court insofar as it declined to award the employee permanent and total disability benefits, and required that the case be remanded back to the trial court.
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|Title Annotation:||Nursing Law Case on Point; SAAD's Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Meinhardt, 2007|
|Publication:||Nursing Law's Regan Report|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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