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On April 8, 2004, Katherine Williams, a customer service representative for Bank of America, injured her back, arm and neck when a chair was pulled out from under her. Williams sought medical treatment, particularly for headaches and neck pain, and continued to work for Bank of America until she was laid off in 2008. In the Fall of 2009, her neurologist determined that she was unable to work in any capacity due to cervical disc disease and intractable post-traumatic headaches. At a subsequent hearing before the Deputy Commissioner, Williams was awarded temporary total disability benefits and ongoing medical treatment.
Defendants appealed to the Full Commission on November 15, 2011 and on December 8, 2011, the transcript of the hearing was transmitted electronically to the parties by the Industrial Commission. After receiving no further filings from Defendants, Williams filed a Motion to dismiss Defendants’ appeal on January 16, 2012 for failure to timely file a Form 44 Application for Review and a brief. On January 24, 2012, Defendants responded to Plaintiff’s Motion and also filed their Form 44 and brief. The Full Commission denied Williams’ Motion to Dismiss the appeal, but sanctioned Defendants by waiving their opportunity for oral argument. The Full Commission subsequently entered an Opinion and Award affirming the Deputy Commissioner’s decision with minor modifications. Both parties appealed.
On April 2, 2013, in Williams v. Bank of America, the Court of Appeals held that the Full Commission did not err in allowing Defendants’ appeal to go forward despite their failure to strictly comply with the time limitations set for filing a Form 44 and brief in Industrial Commission Rule 701. The Court noted that although Industrial Commission Rule 801, which allows the Commission to waive its rules in the interest of justice, does not allow the Commission to waive total noncompliance with Rule 701, in this instance, the Commission’s decision to waive strict compliance with Rule 701 was not abuse of discretion.
The Court next addressed the Full Commission’s conclusion that Williams’ headaches were causally related to her work injury and that she was disabled as a result. The Court rejected Defendants’ contention that the opinion of Williams’ treating neurologist, that her headaches were causally related to her work accident, was speculative and that he failed to rule out other potential causes of the headaches. The Court noted that the neurologist’s affidavit and deposition testimony established that he did consider other possible causes of Williams’ headaches and, ultimately, testified to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that her work related injury caused her headaches, which was sufficient to support the Commission’s determination.
Defendants also contended that Williams failed to meet her burden of proving an ongoing disability, particularly when she was able to continue working after her accident for more than four years, an assertion the Court rejected. It noted that Williams’ testimony regarding the debilitating effect of her post-traumatic headaches was sufficient, in itself, to establish her disability. However, Williams also offered the testimony of her neurologist that her post-traumatic headaches prevented her from being a "reliable employee" due to the fact that she could not maintain "consistent performance." In addition, her vocational expert testified that it would be futile for Williams to seek employment because he did not believe she could maintain it. As a result, the Court upheld the Full Commission’s determination that Plaintiff’s headaches were related to her on-the-job injury and that she continued to be disabled as a result.Risk Handling Hint:
Williams is another reminder that the Full Commission may rely on an injured worker’s own testimony regarding their incapacity for work and that such testimony, by itself, can be sufficient to meet the injured worker’s burden of proof.