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Ford Motor Co. v. Jobe

Supreme Court of Kentucky

April 26, 2018



          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Elizabeth M. Hahn O'Bryan Brown & Toner, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Joy Buchenberger Jennings Law Offices



         Appellee, Donald Jobe, has worked for Appellant, Ford Motor Company, since 2001. In 2012,, Jobe suffered a right hip injury stemming from an accident at Ford's Louisville plant. Ford accepted the hip injury as work-related and covered Jobe's medical bills regarding his hip. Jobe asserted he also sustained a low back impairment due to the hip injury. However, Ford disputed that Jobe's back pain had a causal connection to his work-related hip injury. The administrate law judge (ALJ) found that Jobe's work-related hip injury was a proximate cause of his low back impairment. Due to the causal relationship, the ALJ awarded Jobe benefits regarding his back. The ALJ awarded Jobe benefits for a 14% permanent partial disability, temporary total disability benefits for the periods he was off work due to his back impairment, and medical benefits. Ford appealed to the Workers' Compensation Board, to the work-related injury. The Workers' Compensation Board affirmed the ALJ's decision, holding the ALJ had substantial evidence to support his decision. Ford appealed the Board's decision to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. Ford now appeals the Court of Appeals' decision to this Court as a matter of right. See Vessels v. Brown-Forman Distillers Corp., 793 S.W.2d 795, 798 (Ky. 1990); Ky. Const. § 115.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 25, 2012, Jobe tripped due to a gap between two rubber floor mats while working on Ford's assembly line. When he tripped, Jobe felt a popping sensation in his right hip. He provided Ford with notice of his injury and went to the Ford Medical Department. Shortly thereafter, Jobe began to experience right hip pain. He sought medical treatment for this pain and was treated by a series of physicians who were unable to diagnose the cause of the hip pain. Jobe saw Dr. Nazar who, according to the ALJ's report, referred Jobe to a hip specialist. That hip specialist believed Jobe's problems stemmed from a low back condition. Thereafter, Jobe saw Dr. Guarnaschelli who opined on September 6, 2012, that Jobe sustained a work-related injury which resulted in complaints of persistent back and hip pain. (Later, Dr. Guarnaschelli contradicted this statement when he indicated on an FMLA form that Jobe's low back condition was. not due to his occupation.) Dr. Guarnaschelli performed back surgery on March 23, 2013, but Jobe continued to experience pain.

         Jobe testified that he believed his back surgery and other medical treatment for his back was performed in the interest of resolving the pain from his work-related hip injury. He testified he had the back surgery because Dr. Guarnaschelli recommended it as a solution to his hip pain. After his back surgery, Jobe underwent right hip surgery on February 13, 2014. He testified that, unlike the back surgery, the surgery on the right hip substantially improved his condition.

         Over the course of his treatment, Jobe was off work during several intervals. Jobe did not return to work following his injury until July 2013. He was placed under restriction and did not return to his previous job, but instead, was assigned the job of driving trucks off the assembly line. Jobe was then taken off work again on September 3, 2013. When he returned to work on October 4, 2013, Jobe continued driving trucks off the assembly line until October 15, 2013, when he was taken off work yet again. When Jobe returned to work on July 8, 2014, he was placed back on regular duty and subsequently obtained an inspector position-which is his current position with Ford.

         Before his most recent return to work, Jobe underwent an independent medical evaluation (IME) on June 9, 2014. Dr. Farrage performed the IME, and opined that Jobe's low back problem was work-related. He testified it was possible for low back problems to present as hip pain. The ALJ noted that Dr. Farrage indicated there could have been degenerative changes in Jobe's back which were dormant prior to the work injury, but "brought into disabling reality by the work incident." The ALJ further stated that "Dr. Farrage explained the treating surgeon felt the lumbar surgery was necessary following failure of conservative treatment and there was a reasonable expectation the procedure would address the right hip pain."

         On August 6, 2015, the ALJ rendered an opinion awarding Jobe permanent partial disability benefits from Ford for his 14% permanent partial disability, beginning from the date of injury. This 14% impairment rating is a combined percentage of the 3% impairment for the right hip injury and the 11% impairment for the low back injury. Further, the ALJ's opinion ordered Ford to pay all reasonable and necessary medical expenses for the cure and relief of Jobe's right hip and low back injuries pursuant to KRS 342.020, and to pay temporary total disability benefits for the periods of time Jobe was off work due to his work-related hip and back issues.

         Ford appealed to the Board, arguing that it should not be liable for the disability attributable to Jobe's back condition. It further argued that the ALJ engaged in unsupported speculation when he concluded the only reason Jobe underwent the lumbar surgery was due to a failure to find the source of his hip pain. Ford asserted this speculation was not supported by substantial evidence. It contended Jobe would have undergone back surgery regardless of the work-related hip injury, and that the award of permanent partial disability benefits and temporary total disability benefits attributable to the back condition should be vacated.

         The Board held that Jobe was successful in his burden of proving each essential element of his cause of action, leaving the only question on appeal to be whether there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision. The Board held that Dr. Guarnaschelli's September 6, 2012 report and Dr. Farrage's report constituted substantial evidence.

         Ford appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the Board's decision. That court held that causation of the back injury was a factual issue and that the ALJ relied on substantial evidence in finding the back injury to be work-related. Ford now appeals the Court of Appeals' decision ...

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