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Crawford v. Town of Grambling

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 11, 2017

DARREN CRAWFORD Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
TOWN OF GRAMBLING Defendant-Appellant

         Appealed from the Office of Workers' Compensation, District 1E Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 1300674 Brenza I. Jones Workers' Compensation Judge

          JOHNNY R. HUCKABAY, II Counsel for Appellant.

          GREGORY G. ELIAS Counsel for Appellee.

          Before WILLIAMS, LOLLEY and GARRETT, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, J.

         In this workers' compensation case, the employer, the Town of Grambling, refused to pay for the claimant's recommended surgery. The workers' compensation judge ("WCJ") rendered judgment in favor of the claimant, ordering the Town of Grambling to pay for the claimant's surgery. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         The claimant, Darren Crawford, was employed as a sanitation worker for the Town of Grambling. On October 9, 2001, the claimant was injured on the job when he lifted a garbage can. The claimant testified that he reported to his treating physician that he was experiencing pain in his right arm, neck and back.

         Six weeks after the accident, the claimant was referred to Dr. Michael Ehrlich, a neurologist, for treatment. Initially, the claimant's cervical complaints were the sole focus of his medical treatment. Over time, the claimant was evaluated and treated by a number of physicians, including Dr. David Cavanaugh, a neurosurgeon. In a document dated May 29, 2003, Dr. Cavanaugh noted the claimant's cervical complaints and added that the claimant was experiencing "some low back pain with walking." In a reported dated September 25, 2003, Dr. Cavanaugh noted that the claimant "states when he is walking, he'll have some increased low back pain, and wonders if that is connected to his neck."

         In 2003, the claimant was referred to another neurosurgeon, Dr. Anil Nanda. Dr. Nanda recommended that the claimant undergo a cervical laminectomy. However, the claimant declined to do so, opting, instead, to continue conservative treatment.

         Meanwhile, the claimant's lumbar issues worsened. The claimant testified that he informed Dr. Ehrlich that he was experiencing back pain; however, Dr. Ehrlich did not note the claimant's lumbar complaints in the medical records until 2005, when, according to the claimant, his back pain substantially worsened. More specifically, on August 3, 2005, the claimant stated that he awakened with severe back pain. He presented to Dr. Ehrlich; he reported that he had not lifted any heavy objects or injured himself in any way. Initially, Dr. Ehrlich considered the complaint of back pain to be "acute" and/or "age related." However, he later concluded that the claimant's lumbar complaints were "definitely related" to post-accident deconditioning.

         The employer initially paid for medical treatment related to the claimant's lumbar complaints. However, in 2008, a new claims adjuster, Della Hildebrand, was assigned to the claimant's case. Hildebrand scrutinized the claimant's medical records and concluded that his lumbar issues were not related to his work injury. Hildebrand instructed the case manager "to inform Dr. Nanda that [the claimant's] lumbar issues were not related to the work accident." Consequently, the employer ceased payments for medical treatment related to the claimant's lumbar complaints.

         Over the years, the claimant continued to be evaluated by Dr. Nanda at intermittent intervals. Although Dr. Nanda had recommended a cervical laminectomy, he noted that the claimant could continue conservative treatment until he could no longer tolerate the symptoms. In 2007, Dr. Nanda began evaluating the claimant for both cervical and lumbar complaints. In 2012, Dr. Nanda recommended that the claimant undergo both cervical and lumbar laminectomies. Again, the claimant opted to continue conservative treatment instead. As the claimant's symptoms worsened, he decided to undergo the cervical and lumbar surgeries. The employer agreed to pay for the cervical surgery, but denied payment for the lumbar surgery.

         On January 25, 2013, the claimant filed a disputed claim for compensation, seeking a judgment compelling the employer to pay for the lumbar surgery. Prior to the trial, the parties stipulated as to the following facts: the claimant sustained a compensable injury on October 9, 2001; the claimant sustained cervical injuries as a result of the accident; surgery for the cervical injuries was recommended; the claimant elected not to have the cervical surgery at that time; the employer did not deny payment for the cervical injuries; the employer initially paid for the treatment of the claimant's lumbar complaints; the employer stopped payment for further treatment when it determined ...


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