Appeal from Jackson Circuit Court. (CV-91-92).
Crawley, Judge. Robertson, P.j., and Thigpen, Yates, and Monroe, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crawley
This is a workmen's compensation case. *fn1
William O'Neal Walls ("worker") filed a complaint in April 1991, seeking workmen's compensation benefits by alleging that he had injured his foot in 1989 in the course of his employment with Central LP Gas, Inc. ("company").
The parties settled with regard to the worker's claim for compensation benefits. The settlement was approved by the circuit court in April 1991, the circuit court expressly finding that the worker had suffered an injury to his foot. The company paid all medical expenses incurred by the worker for treatment of his injured foot.
In May 1994, the worker filed a motion seeking payment for expenses for surgery and treatment ("medical expenses") during October and November 1993 relating to the worker's back. The company filed a response denying liability because, it claimed, the expenses were not related to the foot injury of August 1989. Following ore tenus proceedings, the trial court awarded the worker the amount of the medical expenses incurred in the treatment of his back.
The company presents two issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial Judge erred in finding that the worker's back injury in 1993 was related to the worker's foot injury in 1989, and (2) whether the 1991 settlement for the foot injury bars the worker's claim for payment of the medical expenses for the back injury.
The trial court made the following findings of fact, in relevant part:
"On April 25, 1991, this court entered a judgment approving a settlement agreement of a workmen's compensation claim by the plaintiff for injuries to his right foot. No mention was made of back injuries in the decree.
"On November 4, 1993, the plaintiff had surgery to his back, incurring medical expenses of $16,322.90.
"The decree of April 1991 settled all claims, except for future medical expenses.
"The plaintiff contends this is a related medical expense. The defendant says that it is not related to the foot injury and says the decree of April 1991 is res judicata.
"Dr. Bolton testified for the plaintiff and very strongly says that the back injury was related to the injury to his foot. The plaintiff says that he reported to Dr. Bolton and Dr. Buckner that his back was hurting and that he reported this many times, although it only got in the medical records on one occasion.
"The decree of April 1991 cannot be res judicata because it specifically excepted future medical expenses. The real issue, or question, is whether, or not, this back surgery was related to, or caused by, the injuries that he received in 1989 that were covered by this decree.
"The defendant submits the deposition of Dr. Joel Pickett, a neurosurgeon in Huntsville, Alabama, who performed the back surgery for a herniated disc at L-4/L-5. Dr. Pickett states, in response to a question, that he believes the back injury for which he performed surgery was caused by a 'new event' although he did not have any actual injury that he could relate it to, and there was nothing that the patient mentioned that seemed to cause it.
"Dr. Pickett also says that Mr. Walls injured himself in some way back in 1989. He further says that the plaintiff may have been left with some degree of chronic pain that he found bearable and was able to tolerate and then four weeks before he saw him that he could have had another disc herniation or herniated additional material out, basically a second insult to the same area, and 'I think that's probably what happened.'
"This court finds that the back surgery was caused by and related to the injuries received by Mr. Walls in 1989 for which he was paid the lump-sum workmen's compensation benefits.
"Judgment is hereby entered in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant for the sum ...