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Soniat v. Buick

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

December 16, 2014

JAMES M. SONIAT
v.
CROWN BUICK AND RISK MANAGEMENT SERVICES

ON APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, DISTRICT 7, STATE OF LOUISIANA. NO. 13-6282. HONORABLE SYLVIA T. DUNN, JUDGE PRESIDING.

ANTHONY J. MILAZZO, JR., ATTORNEY AT LAW, Metairie, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.

WADE A. LANGLOIS, III, ATTORNEY AT LAW, Gretna, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.

Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Marc E. Johnson, and Stephen J. Windhorst.

OPINION

Page 279

[14-489 La.App. 5 Cir. 2] MARC E. JOHNSON, Judge.

In this workers' compensation case, the employer, Crown Buick Pontiac GMC Truck, and Risk Management Services (collectively " Crown Buick" ) appeal the trial court's judgment awarding Claimant penalties and attorney fees on the basis they failed to reasonably controvert Claimant's need for epidural steroid injections

Page 280

(ESIs). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

In the appeal before us, it is undisputed that Claimant, James Soniat, suffered a work-related back injury on February 16, 2012, while employed as an auto technician with Defendant, Crown Buick. In particular, Claimant was injured when he attempted to push a vehicle that he was repairing back onto a jack from which it had slipped. Crown Buick has paid workers' compensation benefits to Claimant from the date of the accident through the present.

On August 28, 2013, Claimant filed a disputed claim for compensation in the Office of Workers' Compensation, stating that Crown Buick had refused to approve ESIs recommended by his treating physician, Dr. Michael Zeringue. Claimant sought penalties and attorney fees as a result of Crown Buick's repeated refusals to approve the recommended medical treatment. After Claimant filed his [14-489 La.App. 5 Cir. 3] disputed claim, Crown Buick requested an independent medical examination, which was scheduled by the court with Dr. Ralph Katz. Dr. Katz examined Claimant on December 11, 2013, and issued a report on the same day stating that he agreed that ESIs were warranted.

The matter came for trial on March 12, 2014. At the beginning of trial, the parties stipulated that Crown Buick had approved the ESIs for Claimant based on Dr. Katz's report. Thus, the only issue for trial was whether Claimant was entitled to penalties and attorney fees for Crown Buick's initial refusal to approve the requested medical treatment. Upon agreement of the parties, no live testimony was presented; instead, various exhibits were introduced, including Claimant's medical records from his treating physicians. The trial court took the matter under advisement and rendered judgment on March 27, 2014. In its judgment, the trial court found that Claimant was entitled to the ESIs and that Crown Buick failed to reasonably controvert Claimant's entitlement to the injections. As such, the trial court awarded Claimant penalties in the amount of $6,000 and attorney fees in the amount of $8,000. Crown Buick appeals the award of penalties and attorney fees.

The record shows that Claimant was seen by Dr. Lee Moss, an orthopedist, on May 1, 2012 with complaints of low back and right leg pain. Dr. Moss examined Claimant and opined that he suffered from a lumbar disc herniation. He prescribed Vicodin, a Medrol Dosepak and Lodine, and ordered a lumbar MRI. An MRI was performed on May 5, 2012, and showed a broad-based disc herniation at L4-5 with facet degeneration of L4-5 and L5-S1. During a follow-up visit on May 15, 2012, Dr. Moss noted that Claimant did not obtain relief from the Medrol Dosepak or Lodine and that he continued with right leg pain. On examination, Dr. Moss observed that Claimant had limited motion with low back pain. At that time, Dr. Moss recommended three lumbar ESIs.

[14-489 La.App. 5 Cir. 4] Dr. Moss next saw Claimant two months later, on July 12, 2012, at which time Claimant relayed that he was not getting any better and was probably getting worse. He complained of low back and right leg pain. Dr. Moss noted that Claimant was now walking with a limp, had a tender sciatic notch, and positive straight leg raise maneuver on the right. Dr. Moss noted that ...


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