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Entrekin v. Lasseter

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 26, 2015

Todd Entrekin, Etowah County Sheriff
v.
Jerry Frederic Lasseter

          Appeal from Etowah Circuit Court. (CV-12-900017).

         THOMPSON, Presiding Judge. Pittman, Thomas, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

Page 480

          THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.

         Todd Entrekin, in his official capacity as sheriff of Etowah County (" the sheriff" ), appeals from a judgment of the Etowah Circuit Court (" the trial court" ) granting Jerry Frederic Lasseter's motion to compel payment of medical expenses pursuant to a workers' compensation settlement agreement (" the agreement" ) entered into by the parties.

         On January 16, 2012, Lasseter filed in the trial court a complaint[1] alleging that on July 20, 2010, he had been injured in a motor-vehicle accident (" the 2010 accident" ) that occurred during the course of his employment as an Etowah County sheriff's deputy. The parties, stipulating that they were subject to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, entered into the agreement on November 12, 2013. The agreement stated that Lasseter alleged that the 2010 accident had " resulted in an injury to his spine, specifically at levels T-11 and T-8," indicating an injury to his thoracic spine. The agreement also stated that the parties had agreed to a lump-sum settlement in the amount of $22,500 as full compensation for the alleged injury and that payment of the lump sum released the sheriff from all liability for past, present, and future compensation benefits regarding the alleged injury. However, the

Page 481

agreement also provided that the sheriff would remain liable for Lasseter's future medical expenses associated with the alleged injury. The trial court approved the agreement and adopted it as its judgment on November 12, 2013.

         On July 3, 2014, Lasseter filed in the trial court a " motion to compel medical treatment." Lasseter attached to that motion a letter from Meadowbrook Insurance Group (" MIG" ), the third-party administrator of the Etowah County Commission's workers' compensation fund, which was responsible for meeting the sheriff's obligations as to medical expenses under the agreement, to Dr. Michelle Turnley, Lasseter's treating physician. That letter informed Dr. Turnley that, in the future, MIG would cover treatment for Lasseter only at the T-8 and T-11 levels of his thoracic spine. According to Lasseter's motion, Dr. Turnley had issued orders prescribing epidural injections to Lasseter's lumbar spine, and MIG had sent Dr. Turnley the letter in response to those orders. It is undisputed that MIG had covered epidural injections to Lasseter's lumbar spine before the parties entered into the agreement.

         The sheriff filed in the trial court a response to Lasseter's motion. Although the sheriff conceded that, pursuant to the agreement, he was liable for medical expenses associated with treatment to Lasseter's thoracic spine at the T-8 and T-11 levels, he argued that he was not liable for medical expenses associated with treatment to Lasseter's lumbar spine because there had been no determination of compensability for any injury to the lumbar spine and because the agreement explicitly limited coverage for future medical expenses to those associated with treatment of the thoracic spine.

         On October 3, 2014, the trial court held a hearing on Lasseter's motion to compel at which it heard arguments of the parties' attorneys but received no testimony or other evidence. Lasseter's attorney argued that, since the 2010 accident, Lasseter had received " multiple series" of epidural injections to his lumbar spine that MIG had covered but was no longer willing to cover after the parties entered into the agreement. Lasseter's attorney further argued that, because MIG had covered treatment to Lasseter's lumbar spine before the parties entered into the agreement, Lasseter would not have entered into a settlement agreement that would prohibit his ability to recover medical expenses for that treatment. On the other hand, the sheriff's attorney argued that the plain language of the agreement explicitly limited coverage for medical expenses to those expenses associated with treatment provided to the T-8 and T-11 levels of Lasseter's thoracic spine. At the close of the hearing, the trial court asked the parties to brief the issues. On October 15, 2014, the trial court entered a judgment granting Lasseter's motion to compel and ordering the sheriff to provide for the " treatment of epidural injections to [Lasseter's] lumbar spine." The sheriff timely appealed.

         On appeal, the sheriff argues that the trial court erred because, he says, it expanded the scope of the agreement by requiring him to cover medical expenses for epidural injections to Lasseter's lumbar spine. The sheriff argues, as he did in the trial court, that the agreement expressly limits his liability for Lasseter's future medical expenses to those expenses associated with the injury referenced in the agreement, i.e., expenses incurred for treatment of the thoracic spine at the T-8 and T-11 levels.

          Because the trial court received no ore tenus evidence before entering its ...


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