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McKnight v. Hubbell Power Systems

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 19, 2019


          Session September 30, 2019

          Mailed November 13, 2019

          Appeal from the Maury County Circuit Court No. 12732 J. Russell Parkes, Judge

         Employee filed a motion asking the trial court to require Employer to provide additional treatment for a work-related injury she suffered in March 2007. The trial court granted Employee's motion and denied Employer's motion to appoint a neutral physician. Employer's appeal has been referred to this Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 51,' 1. After reviewing the evidence in the record and the parties' arguments, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6"225(e) (2014) (applicable to injuries occurring prior to July 1, 2014) Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Maury County Circuit Court Affirmed.

          Thomas J. Dement, Nashville, Tennessee, for appellants, Hubbell Power Systems and Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

          Robert D. Massey, Pulaski, Tennessee, for appellee, Darla McKnight.

          DON R. ASH, SE. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which JEFFREY S. BIVINS, C.J., and ROBERT E. LEE DAVIES, SR. J., joined.


          DON R. ASH, SR. J.

         On March 16, 2007, Darla McKnight ("Employee") injured her neck in the course and scope of her employment with Hubbell Power Systems ("Employer"). She was treated for her injury by Dr. Cyrus Ghavam. On February 20, 2009, the trial court approved a settlement of Employee's claim for workers' compensation benefits. On January 3, 2018, Employee filed a "Motion to Require [Employer] to Provide Recommended Medical Treatment." According to the motion, Dr. Ghavam advised Employee she needed surgery related to her 2007 work-related injury. On July 30, 2018, Employer filed a "Motion to Appoint Neutral Physician pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-204(d)(9)."

         Dr. Ghavam, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, examined Employee on May 25, 2007. Employee, who was then 37 years of age, stated she had been "twisting and pulling on a piece of equipment" when "she felt and heard a popping sensation in her neck and had immediate burning and stabbing pain in her neck going down the left shoulder into the arm." According to Dr. Ghavam's deposition, an MRI "showed disc protrusions at three levels in her neck: C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7," which were "more significant towards the left side." Because the MRI was of "moderate quality at best," Dr. Ghavam ordered a CT myelogram, which showed "broad-based disc protrusion, worse on the left at C4-5 and similar pathology at C5'6." Dr. Ghavam diagnosed Employee with "degenerative disc disease with disc protrusions at C4-5, C5-6, and C6"7, as well as cervical radiculopathy." He advised against surgery at that time, but he imposed restrictions against overhead work and lifting. Employee was also treated with medication, steroid injections, traction, and a TENS unit. Employee reached maximum medical improvement on February 15, 2008.

         Dr. Ghavam re-examined Employee in November 2009, admittedly after Employee was in a car accident. Although Employee reported a "significant increase in neck pain as well as back and left leg pain," an MRI revealed "no additional herniated disc" and "no objective change in terms of the findings on the imaging studies" as a result of the accident. Dr. Ghavam also examined Employee for neck and right arm pain on November 28, 2012! Employee had "a herniated disc at C6-7" and "a significant nerve compression on the right side affecting the C7 nerve root." He described this as "a new condition" that did not relate to the Employee's work injury. He surmised the condition was "most likely" a "spontaneous herniation" related to Employee's degenerative disc disease.

         On September 28, 2016, Employee reported pain in her neck and left arm. Dr. Ghavam diagnosed "chronic neck pain with cervical radiculopathy which has progressively worsened." According to Dr. Ghavam, an MRI taken in October 2016 showed Employee had "severe stenosis at C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7," which was a degenerative condition. Dr. Ghavam explained the original work accident "triggered the development of left arm symptoms due to the disc protrusions at C4-5 and C5-6," and "this is basically the same condition that's manifested itself again years later." According to Dr. Ghavam, Employee elected to proceed with surgery "in view of the duration of symptoms and increase in severity of her symptoms."

         Dr. Ghavam agreed the need for surgery "arose out of her on-the-job injury in March of 2007." He ...

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