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Enterprise Leasing Co. v. Drake

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

October 11, 2019

Enterprise Leasing Company - South Central, LLC
v.
Benson Drake

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-16-903224)

          MOORE, Judge.

         Enterprise Leasing Company - South Central, LLC ("the employer"), appeals from a judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the trial court") awarding workers' compensation benefits to Benson Drake ("the employee"). We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Procedural History

         The parties have previously appeared before this court. See Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC v. Drake, [Ms. 2170870, Jan. 4, 2019] So.3d (Ala. Civ. App. 2019).[1] In Drake, this court summarized the procedural history of the case:

"On September 1, 2016, the employee filed a verified complaint against the employer alleging, among other things, that, on August 21, 2015, he had suffered an injury to his left knee while acting in the line and scope of his employment with the employer and that he had also suffered an injury to his right knee as a result of the injury to his left knee. The employee sought an award of benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act ('the Act'), Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-1 et seq. The employer filed an answer on October 12, 2016.
"On February 28, 2018, the parties filed in the trial court a number of stipulations of fact. A bench trial was conducted on March 8, 2018, after which both parties filed trial briefs with the court. On March 27, 2018, the trial court entered a final judgment in favor of the employee; on that same date, the trial court entered an amended judgment in favor of the employee and against the employer, assigning the employee 'a 50% permanent partial impairment rating to both his legs as a result of his on-the-job-injuries' and concluding that the employee 'is entitled to a 15% fee of the award for Permanent Partial Disability benefits.' The employer filed a postjudgment motion on April 26, 2018; the trial court denied that motion on April 30, 2018. The employer filed its notice of appeal to this court on June 5, 2018."

__So. 3d at __(footnote omitted).

         In Drake, this court concluded, among other things, that the employee's claim that his right-knee injury was the result of the overuse of his right knee following the injury to his left knee is subject to the clear-and-convincing standard outlined in § 25-5-81(c), Ala. Code 1975. To the extent that the trial court used an incorrect evidentiary standard, this court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case, directing the trial court to, among other things, apply the correct standard, to make appropriate findings fact, and to determine whether the employee had proved by clear and convincing evidence that his right-knee injury was a direct and natural consequence of his left-knee injury. Following this court's reversal, the trial court entered an amended judgment on January 24, 2019, which, among other things, assigned the employee "a 5% permanent partial impairment rating to his left knee and a 2% permanent partial impairment rating to his right knee due to his on-the-job injury." On January 28, 2019, the employee filed a postjudgment motion challenging the trial court's reduction in the permanent-partial-impairment rating to both knees. The employer filed an objection to the employee's postjudgment motion on February 4, 2019.

         On March 7, 2019, the trial court entered an order granting the employee's postjudgment motion and amending its January 24, 2019, judgment to state:

"Under § 25-5-81(c)[, Ala. Code 1975], the burden of proof for an accidental injury differs from that of an injury due to cumulative physical stress.
"'The decision of the court shall be based on a preponderance of the evidence as contained in the record of the hearing, except in cases involving injuries which have resulted from gradual deterioration or cumulative physical stress disorders, which shall be deemed compensable only upon a finding of clear and convincing proof that those injuries arose out of and in the course of the employee's employment.
"'For the purposes of this amendatory act, "clear and convincing" shall mean evidence that, when weighted against evidence in opposition, will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm conviction as to each essential element of the claim and a high probability as to the correctness of the conclusion. Proof by clear and convincing evidence requires a level of proof greater than a preponderance of the ...

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