Appeal from Lee Circuit Court. (CV-92-520). Robert M. Harper, TRIAL JUDGE.
Rehearing Overruled October 21, 1994, . Released for Publication November 28, 1995.
Thigpen, Robertson, Yates
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thigpen
Shirley D. King brought this action in October 1992, seeking to recover benefits from Vermont American Corporation (Vermont) pursuant to the Workmen's Compensation Act *fn1 of Alabama. King alleged, inter alia, that she had developed an occupational disease (carpal tunnel syndrome); that it was contracted from or was aggravated by the nature of her employment; and that her contraction and/or the aggravation of the disease arose out of and in the course of her employment with Vermont. *fn2 Following ore tenus proceedings, the trial court determined that King was not entitled to recover benefits; hence, this appeal.
The record reveals that King was employed by Vermont in 1984 and that she held several different jobs prior to her most recent position as an "inspector grinder" of small manufactured articles made in Vermont's foundry. She inspected the articles and then ground or cleaned them with an air gun. Prior to her employment with Vermont, King had worked at other various jobs, the most significant being 14 years as a sewing machine operator.
In September 1991, King sought treatment from a chiropractor for arm, neck, and back problems. King testified that she suspected she might have carpal tunnel syndrome, and she went to the chiropractor "because my arms and neck was hurting and then I mentioned my back while I was down there to him." When her back did not improve, the chiropractor referred her to Dr. Ryan, a neurosurgeon. Dr. Ryan performed certain tests and discovered a bulging disc in her back. King testified that she mentioned carpal tunnel syndrome to Dr. Ryan, but that he did not treat her for that. Dr. Ryan treated her on two occasions for her back problem and then referred her to Dr. Caudill Miller, a neurologist, for certain nerve conduction tests.
In January 1992, Dr. Miller diagnosed King as having mild carpal tunnel syndrome. He prescribed medication and wrist immobilizers for King to wear at night. King testified that she refused Dr. Miller's recommendation that she have additional testing, because she could not afford the expenses not covered by her insurance. King requested that Dr. Miller release her to return to work. King testified that Vermont refused to allow her to return to work until she was seen by another physician, since she had not followed Dr. Miller's recommendation.
In March 1992, Vermont referred King to Dr. Stauffer, who reviewed her medical records and recommended that she not return to work as an inspector until she followed Dr. Miller's recommendation for further testing.
King testified at the hearing in April 1993 that she was still experiencing numbness in her hands, that her arms and neck still hurt, and that she lacked strength in her hands. When asked when she first suspected she might have contracted carpal tunnel syndrome, she stated:
"Well, all the time that I had been inspecting I knew that I was sore, my arms and hands and they would get numb. But I didn't have no idea that was what was wrong with me until I went to Dr. Miller."
She further stated that the symptoms first manifested themselves about six to eight months before she saw Dr. Miller; however, she admits that although she believes she complained to some fellow employees about her condition, she did not inform her employer of her contentions prior to filing the instant action. Additionally, she admitted that she applied for employee sickness and accident benefits, and that when she did so, she signed a statement indicating that her condition or illness did not arise out of her employment.
Various doctors testified by deposition. Each testified regarding the myriad of medical conditions that can cause or contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and hormonal changes in women. None of the doctors concluded or opined that King's condition was caused or aggravated by her employment, even though they all agreed that it was current medical thought that repetitive motion can cause or contribute to the development of the condition. Dr. Stauffer concluded that inasmuch as King's condition had shown little improvement, it was his opinion that her symptoms were not related to her job at Vermont, since most patients with carpal tunnel syndrome improve when they cease the activity causing the problem. A vocational expert testified that King had sustained a 68% vocational disability as a result of her carpal tunnel syndrome.
The trial court concluded that King did not carry the burden of proof required in order to entitle her to recover workmen's compensation benefits on her claim that her carpal tunnel syndrome was contracted from or aggravated by her employment. The trial court noted that there was medical evidence of mild carpal tunnel syndrome; however, the trial ...