Arkansas Man Wins Appeal in Workers’ Comp Case

May 16, 2008

The Arkansas Appeals Court has overturned a state panel’s decision to deny a Whirlpool workers’ compensation for his on-the-job injuries.

The appeals court said the Workers’ Compensation Commission was wrong to reject a neurosurgeon’s opinion that Larry Roberts’ back injuries were related to his work at Whirlpool Corp.’s refrigerator plant in Fort Smith.

The court sent the case back to the commission for a decision in accordance with the ruling.

On Sept. 10, 2004, Roberts was moving 1,900 pounds of batteries in a cart and one of the cart’s wheels got stuck in a hole, the court opinion said. Roberts, who was 54 at the time, pulled and jerked the cart to dislodge it. Pain in his left shoulder shot down his arm, the opinion said.

Roberts saw doctors in the months that followed but his condition worsened to where he had little control of his left hand and was unable to button his clothes or use his left arm, the opinion said. On May 17, 2005, Dr. Arthur Johnson performed surgery that helped return strength to Roberts’ left hand.

Johnson testified in Roberts’ claim for benefits that Roberts suffered a cervical disc herniation that damaged his spinal cord, caused edema and led to atrophy of his muscles. Johnson said the injuries were related to Roberts’ effort to move the batteries at work.

Whirlpool agreed that Roberts’ suffered work-related injury to his left shoulder and arm but not to his neck or cervical spine.

An administrative law judge in October 2006 ruled in Roberts’ favor, but the Workers Compensation Commission agreed with a doctor for Whirlpool that Roberts’ condition was related to a pre-existing degenerative disc disease that had simply worsened over time.

In its June 18, 2007, decision, the commission dismissed Johnson’s opinion, saying that he had not reviewed Roberts’ medical records and had based his opinion on Roberts’ account. The appeals court said the commission acted “arbitrarily” in disregarding Johnson’s testimony.

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