Colby Furniture Company, Inc.
Belinda J. Overton
from Marion Circuit Court (CV-95-118.02)
Furniture Company, Inc. ("the employer"), appeals
from a judgment entered by the Marion Circuit Court
("the trial court") requiring the employer to
provide Belinda J. Overton ("the employee") with a
panel of four physicians from which to select a new
authorized treating physician or, alternatively, to negotiate
with the employee to close her claim for future medical
benefits under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act
("the Act"), § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975.
We affirm the trial court's judgment.
employee sustained a neck injury on November 11, 1994, in an
accident arising out of and in the course of her employment
with the employer. On January 28, 1998, the trial court
entered a judgment approving a settlement agreement between
the employer and the employee, pursuant to which "[the
employer shall] remain liable to [the employee] for future
medical benefits as required by the Workers' Compensation
Act of Alabama which was in effect at the time of the
employer designated an authorized treating physician to treat
the employee's 1994 work-related injury and that
physician referred the employee to a "Dr. Gibson"
for pain management. In 2005, the employee complained that
Dr. Gibson's office was too remote from her home. The
employer provided the employee with a panel of four
physicians, from which the employee selected Dr. George
Hammitt as her new authorized pain-management physician. In
2006, the employee moved to Texas, where she received
treatment from a "Dr. Moore" at the expense of the
employer. When the employee returned to Alabama in 2009, the
employer provided the employee with a panel of four
physicians, including Dr. Hammitt, from which to select a new
authorized treating physician. The employee chose Dr.
Hammitt, but she was informed that he was no longer available
to treat her. The employee subsequently selected Dr. Laura
Gray as her new authorized treating physician. Dr. Gray
treated the employee from 2009 to August 26, 2015, when Dr.
Gray discharged the employee as a patient.
September 4, 2015, the employer filed a motion requesting
postjudgment discovery and a hearing to determine whether the
employee was entitled to any further medical
care. The trial court entered an order on
September 15, 2015, permitting the parties to engage in
discovery and requiring the parties to notify the court when
discovery was completed and they were ready for a hearing.
August 2, 2016, the employer filed a motion for a summary
judgment. In that motion, the employer argued that the
employee had no right to further medical treatment at its
expense. The employer maintained that the employee had
exhausted her statutory right to a panel of four in 2005 and,
therefore, that it no longer had any duty to provide her with
a panel of four from which to select a new authorized
treating physician. The employer also argued that the
employee had forfeited her right to authorized medical
treatment through her misconduct in violating a narcotics
agreement with Dr. Gray. On October 7, 2016, the trial court
denied the motion for a summary judgment and subsequently set
a hearing on the issue of the employee's right to future
medical benefits for April 20, 2017.
April 20, 2017, hearing, the employee testified that she had
signed a narcotics agreement upon becoming a patient of Dr.
Gray. Under the terms of that agreement, the employee
promised, among other things, to use only narcotic pain
medication authorized by Dr. Gray and only in the dosages and
intervals prescribed by Dr. Gray. The employee testified that
she would regularly use more narcotic pain medication than
had been prescribed by Dr. Gray because, she asserted, Dr.
Gray had prescribed her lower dosages than necessary to treat
her pain. In her medical records, Dr. Gray stated that she
had discharged the employee for violating the narcotics
agreement and for using narcotic medications in a dangerous
manner; however, the employee denied that she had been
discharged for those reasons. At the close of the hearing,
the employer reiterated its arguments from its motion for a
trial court entered a judgment on May 19, 2017, providing:
"After hearing and full consideration of the evidence
presented therein, the Court finds as follows:
"Under the terms of a January 13, 1998 Settlement
Agreement, the [employee's] medical benefits remained
open. [The employee] has been treated with addictive
medications for her pain for many years. She moved to Texas
for a period of time and then back to Alabama. Upon her
return to Alabama, [the employee] was assigned a new doctor.
The physician tried to lower the amount of [the
employee's] medication by prescribing lower doses. [The
employee] was used to taking higher doses and complained that
the lower dose was not reducing the pain, so she would take
more medication than what she was prescribed. [The
employee's] physician terminated her treatment for
failing to follow the prescribed dosage.
"It is therefore ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that [the
employee] is entitled to recover medical benefits under the
provisions of the . . . Act and [the employer] shall provide
to the [employee] a second panel selection for a new
November 27, 2017, the employer filed a "motion for