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Court Of Civil Appeals Clarifies When A Trial Court’s Decision Is A Final Judgment For Purposes Of Appeal

In Ex parte Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, (Ala. Civ. App. May 6, 2016)[25 ALW 20], the employee Sarah Brown (“Brown”) filed a workers’ compensation action against her employer Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc. (“Lowe’s), seeking medical treatment for her claimed back injury and an award of disability benefits.  After conducting a compensability hearing, the trial court found Brown’s injury to be compensable and awarded medical treatment as well as an unspecified amount of temporary total disability (“TTD”) benefits.  Lowe’s filed a Motion to Amend, Alter or Vacate the trial court’s decision, and the trial court denied same.  Lowe’s then appealed the decision.  

The Court of Civil Appeals found that that trial court did not determine the extent, if any, of the employee’s disability in awarding TTD benefits and therefore, the trial court’s decision was not a final judgment and that Lowe’s should have instead, filed a petition for writ of mandamus.  The Court noted that time for filing a petition for writ of mandamus had expired and therefore, the Court dismissed Lowe’s appeal as an “untimely mandamus petition”.  

On rehearing, however, Lowe’s argued that the Court’s dismissal of its appeal was in conflict with the Court’s earlier decision in Belcher-Robinson Foundry, LLC v. Narr, 42 So.3d 774 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010) wherein the Court held that the trial court’s decision in that case was a final judgment even though it had not specified the amount of TTD benefits to award the employee.  The Court agreed that the decisions were indistinguishable and withdrew its January 22, 2016 opinion dismissing Lowe’s appeal and finding that the trial court’s decision was a final judgment subject to appeal.  

The Court further clarified the law in Alabama regarding this issue by expressly holding that “… if a trial court enters a judgment finding that an injury is compensable, ordering payment for medical treatment, and awarding temporary-total-disability benefits, regardless of whether the amount of those benefits is specified in the judgment, this court will treat such a judgment as final for purposes of appeal.”  (Emphasis added).  Ex parte Lowe’s Home Centerssupra. Other previous opinions to the contrary were overruled.