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Teno v. Ford Motor Co.

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

April 28, 2017



          BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: Nicholas Murphy Louisville, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: Hon. George T. T. Kitchen, III Louisville, Kentucky



          LAMBERT, J., JUDGE

         Regina Teno has petitioned this Court for review of the decision of the Workers' Compensation Board (the Board) affirming the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) dismissal of her workers' compensation claim. The ALJ found that Teno failed to prove a work-related injury. On appeal to this Court, Teno claims the ALJ and the Board overlooked the opinions of numerous medical professionals who diagnosed Teno with work-related thoracic outlet syndrome and, instead, erroneously relied solely on the opinion of one defense independent medical exam doctor. Because we hold that the ALJ misconstrued the evidence of one of the physicians, we reverse the Board's opinion.

         Teno began working for Appellee Ford Motor Company in 1993. She held numerous positions while at Ford. Around February of 2011, Teno transferred to Ford's paint department and was assigned to work the "left hang" job on the paint line. Teno described the job as strenuous and repetitious, and she said she had to do a lot of bending and reaching.

         While in the paint department, truck cabs and boxes are placed on skids and secured with chains. A conveyor lowers each skid into a paint bath (which is recessed in the floor), where the component is coated with a tacky pre-coat (referred to as the "E" coat of paint) before being rinsed in other vats down the line. As each skid was conveyed out of the E-coating/rinse vats, Teno had to quickly bend at waist level and use a six-inch hand tool, similar to a crow bar and weighing about one pound, to remove the front and back chains on her side of the carrier. Teno held the tool and worked it with her right hand to unhook the chain from the front-left corner of the skid. She then used her tool to transfer the free-end of the chain to an overhead conveyor. Teno quickly shifted her tool to her left hand, unhooked the back-left corner's chain from the carrier, lifted the chain overhead, and hooked it to the conveyor. The sticky pre-coat often made the chains difficult to remove. Once free, the conveyor transported the skids to the next workstation while the overhead trolley conveyed the chains back to the point of entry.

         Teno testified in deposition that the job was taxing on her body from the start, but over time her discomfort lessened and she was doing well in the position. In November 2012, however, Teno's right arm and elbow began to hurt. She purchased elbow and wrist braces, which provided some relief. Teno also experienced pain around her right collarbone and down into her right bicep when lifting the chains overhead. The pain, while intermittent at first, became constant and severe by February 8, 2013. Teno sought medical treatment.

         Teno's medical history is complex and lengthy. Suffice it to say numerous physicians prescribed conservative medical treatment, including steroid injections, physical therapy, pain medication, a cervical MRI, and chiropractic care. None of these treatments offered Teno lasting relief.

         Initially, Teno did not report her right upper extremity pain as work-related. She informed medical personnel it was a "private insurance" matter. At some point, Teno changed her mind and sought workers' compensation benefits.

         Teno filed a Form 101 on July 29, 2013, seeking compensation for cumulative trauma/repetitive motion injuries to her right arm, right wrist, and neck.[1] She claimed she slowly developed "symptoms in [her] right arm that became disabling while performing repetitive job duties in" February 2013. A formal hearing was held on April 27, 2015. A summary of the evidence follows.

         Teno treated regularly with Dr. Kamlesh Dave, her primary physician. In fact, in an addendum to her medical history, Teno indicated that she had treated with Dr. Dave for approximately five or six years due to problems she was having with her right arm/wrist and neck. Teno also treated previously with Dr. Carlton Paige at First Stop Urgent Care Center in 2003 and 2004 for issues related to her right arm, wrist, and neck. On March 10, 2003, Teno hit her elbow and sought treatment. Dr. Paige diagnosed medial epicondylitis on the right, and advised Teno to avoid overuse of the elbow.

         A year later, on May 3, 2004, Teno again went to Dr. Paige complaining of upper back and neck pain that radiated into both arms causing them to "go to sleep." Dr. Paige observed Teno also had hand weakness and hand paresthesia. Six months later, Teno called Dr. Paige's office and reported that she was experiencing neck pain and thought it was a "nerve problem." Dr. Paige evaluated Teno a few days later. Teno complained of neck pain that radiated into her shoulders. She also stated that sometimes her fingers go numb. A December 26, 2004 x-ray of Teno's right hand was normal.

         Several years later, on October 6, 2011, Teno underwent an MRI of the brain and neck. The MRI showed mild degenerative changes of the cervical spine. Dr. Damon Gatewood's clinical indication was headaches and neck pain.

         Dr. Ghias Arar, a neurologist, evaluated Teno on February 12, 2013. Teno complained of severe right arm pain, bilateral upper extremity numbness and tingling, and neck pain. The doctor recommended an EMG-nerve conduction study. The study revealed moderately severe right carpal tunnel syndrome.

         Dr. Yorell Manon-Matos, an orthopedist at Kleinert and Kutz, examined Teno on February 20, 2013, and administered conservative treatment. The doctor re-evaluated Teno on March 20, 2013. His clinical impression was right carpal tunnel syndrome, RSF triggering, and right bicep tendonitis. Medical records from Dr. Manon-Matos do not include any causal language connecting Teno's diagnoses to her occupation. Indeed, Dr. Manon-Matos specifically opined Teno's condition was not related to her occupation. Dr. Manon-Matos last evaluated Teno on June 4, 2013. Her condition was essentially unchanged. Teno chose not to continue treatment with Dr. Manon-Matos.

         In the interim, Teno presented to Dr. Rachel Chase at the Kentuckiana Center for Better Bone and Joint Health on April 22, 2013, for an initial evaluation for diffuse widespread joint pain. Teno's primary concern was an underlying diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. She complained of knee, hip, pelvis, and right arm pain. She stated her pain began in 2010. Dr. Chase diagnosed trochanteric ...

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