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Emerson v. Willis Knighton Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

September 26, 2018

DIEDRA EMERSON Plaintiff-Appellant

          Appealed from the Office of Workers' Compensation, District 1-W Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 16-06634, Linda Lea Smith Workers' Compensation Judge.

          DIEDRA EMERSON Appellant In Proper Person.

          LUNN, IRION, SALLEY, CARLISLE & GARDNER By: Walter S. Salley Counsel for Appellee.

          Before COX, STEPHENS, and McCALLUM, JJ.

          McCALLUM, J.

         In this Worker's Compensation case, the pro se appellant is Diedre Emerson ("Emerson" or the "plaintiff"), a former certified nurse assistant ("CNA") employed by Willis Knighton Health System ("Willis Knighton"). Emerson filed a Disputed Claim for Compensation describing her injury as follows: "Mental, Distress - Hyperventilation - Stroke like symptoms." The alleged injury occurred on October 1, 2016. After trial on the merits, the Worker's Compensation Judge ("WCJ") denied compensation on the grounds that Emerson failed to carry her burden of proof. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.


         The parties stipulated that Emerson was an employee of Willis Knighton at the time of the alleged injury. Initially, she was a full-time employee, but later changed to part-time work to facilitate her going to nursing school. Her work schedule on the weekend in question was 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on three consecutive nights - Friday, September 30, 2016, through Sunday, October 2, 2016. She worked on the cancer floor at Willis Knighton, which had a maximum capacity of 40 patients.

         When Emerson arrived at work that Friday evening, she found that the prior shift had left much of their work undone, which would require her to do extra work. Specifically, she stated it was her responsibility to record the patients' vital signs upon arriving for work, but she could not because the patients were all "hollering for water." Additionally, the previous shift had left the lunch trays in the patients' rooms, and had not given the patients ice. She further testified that she could not get any of the nurses to help because they were all busy as well. Emerson also admitted that the situation was just more of the "same old, same old" thing, and that the day shift left their work for the night shift "numerous" times.[1]

         Upon learning that she would be responsible for the work allegedly leftover from the previous shift in addition to her immediate duty of taking vital signs of all the patients, she became "so upset… so upset…so mad." While she was taking vital signs, distributing ice, and helping patients to the bathroom, she felt "something loose-like, pop-like" in her head. Emerson admitted that "nothing happened physically" to cause the "pop" in her head.[2]

         After the "pop," Emerson "broke down and started crying." She did not feel pain, but felt "out of [her] body," light-headed, anxious, and as if she could not think. Emerson was with the charge nurse when this occurred, and the charge nurse summoned the house supervisor, who talked with Emerson and then reassigned her to a different floor for the night.

         After her shift ended the morning of Saturday, October 1, 2016, Emerson went to the park and sat for a while in the hope that she would feel better by calming down. Once Emerson determined sitting in the park did not make her feel better, she went to the LSU Medical Center emergency room. She testified that, in the emergency room, she was still crying uncontrollably and reported having weakness in her left side. The medical records from that visit do not indicate that she complained of weakness on her left side.[3] They indicate that her "chief complaint" was "nervousness" and "hyperventilation," and that she had difficulty sleeping as well as elevated blood pressure. Dr. Gregory Patek diagnosed Emerson with anxiety and "stress at work."[4] He prescribed her Atarax and naproxen, and excused her from work until October 3, 2016.

         Willis Knighton requires that employees who cannot work their shift give notice thereof a certain number of hours in advance. Emerson was allegedly tardy in calling Willis Knighton to give notice that she would miss one of her remaining shifts that weekend. She was, for that reason, fired on Monday, October 3, 2016.

         Emerson also testified that she returned to the LSU Medical Center emergency room on November 29, 2016 - approximately two months after the incident for which she seeks workers' compensation. She was then diagnosed with a stroke and a blockage in her right carotid artery. Emerson testified that it is undetermined whether the blockage is from a blood clot or from plaque buildup.[5]

         The medical records from this visit contain the following narrative:

Diedre Emerson is a 50-year-old female with no significant medical history, presented with new onset of left-sided weakness since 11:00 AM today. She arrived at least 7 h after the onset of her symptoms. Patient c/o LUE and LLE weakness, inability to ambulate, report symptoms started after argument on the phone with family followed by panic attack. Symptoms are not improving. Patient reports similar event in October of current year and lasted for about one week, followed by complete resolution. Patient was told that she has HTN during her last PCP visit last year, she is currently not ...

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