American Cast Iron Pipe Co., v. Sharon Blackmon

In this decision from our Court of Civil Appeals, the court examined and ultimately reversed the trial court’s judgment holding that insufficient evidence was presented to warrant treatment of the employee’s wrist injury as an injury to a nonscheduled member.

In American Cast Iron Pipe Co., v. Sharon Blackmon, ACIPCO appealed the trial court’s judgment awarding Blackmon permanent-partial-disability benefits for what the trial court determined was an injury to the body as a whole, despite the fact that injury was to the wrist, a scheduled member. On appeal, the trial court’s judgment was reversed based on the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence presented by the employee to support the trial court’s conclusion that the wrist injury should be treated as an injury to the body as a whole. The case was remanded to the trial court for a determination of the amount of scheduled benefits allowed for the wrist injury.

Following her injuries, Blackmon’s employment was terminated because ACIPCO was unable to accommodate her physical limitations and restrictions. Blackmon filed suit against ACIPCO seeking benefits under the Act. The parties stipulated that Blackmon sustained injury to her right wrist on or about September 3, 2008 and her right ankle on or about January 5, 2010, while performing work within the line and scope of her employment.

Blackmon denied that her wrist injury affected her shoulder or any other part of her body. Blackmon further denied that her ankle injury prevented her from taking care of herself. However, the trial court entered judgment finding that Blackmon had “suffered a 35% permanent partial disability as a result of her work-related injuries” and calculated Blackmon’s benefits award under the Act based upon the 300-week amount specified for permanent partial nonscheduled disability benefits. See §25-5-57(a)(3)(g), Ala. Code 1975.

ACIPCO first argued that the trial court erred in awarding Blackmon benefits calculated based upon an injury to her body as a whole rather than scheduled injuries to her wrist and ankle. ACIPCO argued that Blackmon’s two separate injuries to her wrist and ankle were both compensable, under the schedule of benefits in the Act, at a maximum of 170 weeks for the wrist and 130 weeks for the ankle. See §25-5-57(a)(3)(a)(12), (a)(14), and (a)(15), Ala. Code 1975. ACIPCO went on to argue that Blackmon failed to present evidence indicating that the effects of her injuries extended to other parts of her body or that her injuries virtually disabled her. Specifically, ACIPCO argued that, pursuant to Ex Parte Drummond Co., 837 So. 2d 831, 834-36 (Ala. 2002) and Ex Parte Hayes, 70 So. 3d 1211, 1219-21 (Ala. 2011), the trial court did not have sufficient evidence before it to support awarding benefits beyond the scheduled injuries to Blackmon’s ankle and wrist.

“’“In Ex Parte Drummond Co., 837 So. 2d 831 (Ala. 2002), this Court adopted the following test: [I]f the effects of the loss of the member extend to other parts of the body and interfere with their efficiency, the schedule allowance for the lost member is not exclusive.””’ 837 So. 2d at 834 (quoting 4 Lex K. Larson, Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law § 87.02 (2001)). Based on the employee’s own testimony, the court found insufficient evidence to satisfy this test.

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