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Written by: Elizabeth Ligon
On October 7, 2021, Deputy Commissioner Wes Saunders issued an Opinion and Award in Tapper v. Penske Logistics, LLC, awarding the claimant extended benefits. This is the seventh decision on extended benefits that has been issued at the Deputy Commissioner level.
By way of background, the claimant sustained two compensable injuries to his back while delivering newspapers for Defendant-Employer. The claimant was 64 years old when the Opinion and Award was issued. His first date of disability was July 25, 2011. Following several surgeries, Dr. Dennis Bullard opined that the claimant was totally disabled and precluded from gainful employment. The claimant was referred to Rex Pain Clinic for pain management, but his care was subsequently transferred to his primary care provider, Dr. Kirsten Avery, due to a lack of improvement. Dr. Avery saw the claimant once every three months for medication refills. She testified that the claimant lacked the functional capacity to return to work in any capacity. Deputy Commissioner Saunders found her testimony credible based on her familiarity with the claimant and her status as the claimant’s primary care provider for over twelve years.
Prior to the hearing, the claimant obtained a second opinion evaluation with Dr. Charles Goodno and retained Michael Fryar as an expert in vocational counseling. Dr. Goodno did not have a complete copy of the claimant’s medical records and did not consider that the claimant was recovering from several unrelated surgeries when he tested the claimant’s physical abilities. Consequently, Dr. Goodno’s testimony was given less weight by Deputy Commissioner Saunders because his opinions were based on incomplete information. However, Mr. Fryar testified that because the claimant had not been released to return to work in any capacity by any of his medical providers, his search for employment would be futile. Deputy Commissioner Saunders found Mr. Fryar’s testimony credible and concluded the claimant had carried his burden of proving a total loss of wage earning capacity through Dr. Avery and Mr. Fryar’s expert testimony. Plaintiff was awarded extended benefits and ongoing medical compensation.
This claim is a good reminder that defendants need solid expert opinions, both medical and vocational, that support a finding that a claimant is capable of participating in some form of employment. It is not enough to merely attack the credibility of claimant’s expert witnesses. It is also helpful to have a detailed understanding of claimant’s job history, educational background, and daily activities, including volunteer activities.
Our team will continue to monitor extended benefits cases as they work their way through our court system. If you have any questions about extended benefits, contact a member of our workers’ compensation team.