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Alabama Court Of Civil Appeals Finds Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Took Plaintiff’s Arm Injury Outside The Schedule

In Turner v. Robert J. Baggett, Inc., 2021 WL 403889, (Ala. Civ. App. 2021), the Alabama Court of Civils Appeals held that the trial court erred in finding the injured employee’s injury to his right arm was confined to “the schedule” and instructed the trial court to award the employee compensation based on the extent of his permanent loss of earning capacity.

On August 19, 2014, Ronald Turner, (“the employee”) ruptured his right biceps tendon while pulling on a wrench in the course of his employment with Robert J. Baggett, Inc. (“the employer”). The employee’s ruptured tendon was surgically repaired, but he continued to complain of burning pain, numbness and swelling in his arm, neck and shoulder. The employee was provided treatment by a neurologist, who diagnosed the employee with “complex-regional pain syndrome”, which he described as “remodeling of the nervous system” and found he was permanently disabled as a result of his injury.

At trial, the employer presented evidence that the employee had previously suffered from peripheral neuropathy related to chemotherapy and that he had considered filing for disability as a result of that condition. The employee testified that he experienced severe pain in his arm such that he had to lie down frequently and that his neck pain prevented him from turning his head and driving. The employee also stated that he was working normally before his injury. The trial court found the employee’s right arm injury was confined to his arm and awarded him benefits under “the schedule” codified in Alabama Code § 25-5-57(a)(3) a.

On appeal, the employee argued the trial court erred by awarding benefits under the schedule because the evidence showed his arm injury “interfered with the efficiency” of other parts of his body, as stated in Ex parte Drummond Co., 837 So. 2d 831, 834 (Ala. 2002) and based on the “pain exception”, as stated in Norandal USA, Inc. v. Graben, 133 So. 3d 386 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010). The Court of Civil Appeals found the employee presented uncontroverted evidence that he had complex-regional pain syndrome, which extended to another part of his body, i.e. his nervous system, and that his injury could only be a non-scheduled injury as a result. The Court directed the trial court to award the employee compensation outside the schedule based on his permanent loss of earning capacity. The Court did not address the employee’s argument that the “pain exception” applied.

Turner is significant because it shows the Court of Appeals continued adherence to the Ex parte Drummond “efficiency exception” and the importance of presenting evidence to refute an employee’s claim that his injury to a scheduled member extends to other parts of the body.