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Cox v. Labor Commission

Court of Appeals of Utah

September 14, 2017

Lavon G. Cox, Petitioner,
v.
Labor Commission, St. George Truss Co., and Workers Compensation Fund, Respondents.

         Original Proceeding in this Court

          Virginius Dabney and Stony V. Olsen, Attorneys for Petitioner

          Floyd W. Holm, Attorney for Respondents St. George Truss Co. and Workers Compensation Fund

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Amended Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Kate A. Toomey concurred. [2]

          AMENDED OPINION [1]

          POHLMAN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Petitioner Lavon G. Cox seeks judicial review of the denial of his workers' compensation claim. We conclude that the Labor Commission did not apply the correct medical causation standard. We therefore set aside the Commission's order and direct it to reconsider Cox's claim under the correct legal standard.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In 2013 Cox worked as a maintenance mechanic for Respondent St. George Truss Company. On May 7, 2013, while removing an 80-pound brake drum from a semi truck, Cox "felt a burning, popping sensation" in his back. He "dropped the drum and sunk to his knees for a couple minutes." He "tried walking it off" and went to the shop to take four 200mg tablets of ibuprofen. He asked a coworker for help with the brake drum and completed his shift doing "light maintenance" work.

         ¶3 The next day Cox "felt another burning, popping sensation" in his back while removing another brake drum. He again walked around, went to the shop, and took ibuprofen. He struggled to complete his work because his back hurt, with his pain at 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. He again completed his shift doing lighter work. Cox worked the remaining two days of the work week with "quite a bit of pain, " rested in bed over the weekend, and worked the following week.

         ¶4 On May 17, 2013, Cox first reported his pain to WorkMed, an occupational health services clinic, after he fell to the ground at work while picking up a hose. Four days later Cox again reported to WorkMed when he blacked out while bending down to tie his shoe. The WorkMed doctor diagnosed Cox with a lumbar spine strain, prescribed pain medications, and referred him to physical therapy. The doctor gave Cox a light-duty work release with the following restrictions: "No bending or twisting, [n]o lifting/working above shoulder level, [and] [n]o lifting more than 15 pounds." Cox's modified duty entailed operating a forklift, which includes manually adjusting 60-to-70-pound forks and sitting on a solid-axle forklift seat with no suspension. Cox worked ten-hour days with his pain reaching 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

         ¶5 After several follow-up visits throughout May and June, the WorkMed doctor referred Cox to a physiatrist. In early July the physiatrist ordered further work restrictions, limiting Cox to four hours of work per day. Cox began working half-days with pain varying from 4 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. During this time, Cox "started losing bowel and bladder control . . . almost every day . . . for a while." He also started blacking out and getting lightheaded.

         ¶6 During a two-week period beginning in late July, Cox went to the emergency room three times because he was concerned about his back. After his first visit, his physiatrist directed him to get an MRI. The MRI revealed "severe spinal canal and neural foraminal narrowing" as well as disc bulging on four lumbar levels. He went to the emergency room again the following week because he experienced lower-back pain at home after bending over.

         ¶7 The following month Cox fell while getting out of his truck at work. At the time he fell, his back pain level was 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Cox drove himself to the emergency room, where a second MRI was taken. The MRI revealed "severe spinal canal stenosis, " and the doctor recommended that Cox obtain a neurosurgical consultation. The surgeon admitted Cox to the hospital that same day and scheduled lower back surgery for three days later. After surgery Cox spent three days in the hospital and a week in a rehabilitation facility. He wore a back brace for 8 to 10 weeks, continued treatment with the surgeon, and participated in physical therapy thereafter. Cox has not worked since his fall, and he testified that he continued to have back pain varying from 4 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

         ¶8 Cox experienced two prior incidents involving his back. In 1977 he injured his back in a car accident. He spent about five days in traction before returning to work with no pain. In 2009 he injured his back and ankle in an accident involving an all-terrain vehicle. The ankle injury required surgery. Cox's treating doctor made notes listing chronic lower back pain as a symptom in at ...


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