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December 2, 1994


Appeal from Wilcox Circuit Court. (CV-89-62). Jo Celeste Pettaway, TRIAL JUDGE.

Rehearing Overruled January 13, 1995, . Writ of Certiorari Quashed December 1, 1995. Released for Publication March 23, 1996.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright

WRIGHT, Retired Appellate Judge

Jim Saulsberry filed a complaint for workmen's compensation benefits in the Circuit Court of Wilcox County against Roy Godbold, alleging that he was owed benefits for a work-related injury. Following oral proceedings, the trial court found Saulsberry to be permanently and totally disabled. Godbold appeals.

The record reflects that in late May or early June 1989, Saulsberry was employed by Godbold to operate a chain saw to cut pulpwood. On June 20, 1989, Saulsberry suffered chest pains while operating the saw. He was taken to an emergency room, where his condition was diagnosed as a heart attack. On the same day, he was transferred to Montgomery, where he was treated by Dr. John Finklea, a cardiologist.

Dr. Finklea performed a cardiac catheterization, which revealed that Saulsberry's right coronary artery was completely blocked. Dr. Finklea testified that due to arteriosclerosis, a significant portion of the blockage had been present for several years. He said that due to the blockage, Saulsberry would have inevitably suffered a heart attack. It was his opinion, however, that the vigorous exercise that he was involved in on June 20, 1989, was the initiating factor as to why the attack occurred when it did. Dr. Finklea also testified that Saulsberry would probably be on medication the rest of his life and that he "doubted" that Saulsberry would ever be able to return to the logging industry or to any employment that required similar, vigorous exertion. His treating physician, Dr. Roseanne Cook, testified that Saulsberry would never be able to return to any type of manual labor.

There was evidence admitted that Saulsberry had had problems with his blood pressure for a number of years prior to the 1989 heart attack. The record revealed that since 1989 he has had open heart surgery and has suffered a stroke.

Godbold argues that Saulsberry's heart attack was not caused by his employment but that it was caused by his pre-existing condition. He insists that there is no correlation between the heart attack and the degree of disability. He maintains that the majority of Saulsberry's disability is the sole result of his pre-existing condition. He alternatively argues that "at the very least the disability award was subject to an apportionment for pre-existing injuries or infirmities as provided in Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-58."

The Workmen's Compensation Act is to be liberally construed. It is not limited to those in perfect health. Ex parte Lewis, 469 So. 2d 599 (Ala. 1985). If the employment aggravates, accelerates, or combines with a latent disease or infirmity to produce disability, the preexisting disability does not disqualify the claim under the "proximate cause" requirement of the act. Lewis. If the employee was able to perform his duties prior to the injury, no pre-existing condition is present for purposes of the act. Associated Forest Materials v. Keller, 537 So. 2d 957 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988). In Lewis, the supreme court specifically stated that "the rule is applicable to cases where a work-related heart attack renders arteriosclerosis symptomatic."

In a workmen's compensation case this court's review is limited to a determination of whether there is any legal evidence to support the trial court's Conclusions. If a reasonable view of the evidence supports the findings of the trial court, this court may then determine whether the correct legal Conclusions have been drawn therefrom. Ex parte Eastwood Foods, Inc., 575 So. 2d 91 (Ala. 1991).

In finding Saulsberry to be permanently and totally disabled, the trial court made the following findings of fact:

"2. On June 20, 1989, the Plaintiff was employed by Defendant, Roy Godbold, and on said date, said parties were subject to and operating under the Workmen's Compensation Laws of Alabama.

"3. That on said date, while acting in the line and scope of his employment for Defendant Godbold, Plaintiff suffered an accident which arose out of and in the course of his employment with Defendant Godbold, viz: an acute inferior myocardial infarction, or heart attack. That at the time of said accident, the Plaintiff was engaged in strenuous physical activity, viz: cutting trees with a chain saw and at the time of said accident had been engaged in such activity for approximately three ...

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