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Colby Furniture Company, Inc. v. Overton

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

December 6, 2019

Colby Furniture Company, Inc.
v.
Belinda J. Overton

          Appeal from Marion Circuit Court (CV-95-118.02)

          MOORE, JUDGE.

         Colby 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.

         Background

         The 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 accident."

         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.

         On 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.[1] 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.

         On 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.

         At the 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 summary judgment.

         The 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 doctor."

         On November 27, 2017, the employer filed a "motion for additional ...


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