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The Alabama Court Of Civil Appeals Reverses Pain Management Order By Trial Court

In Ex parte Trusswalk, Inc., No. 2180266, 2019 WL 1415997 (Ala. Civ. App.), the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reviewed a trial court’s order directing an employer to provide pain management treatment for a workers’ compensation claimant.

In Trusswalk, an employee filed a lawsuit against his employer alleging a lower back injury resulting from a work-related accident.  The employee sought benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.  During the litigation, the employee filed a “Motion to Compel Medical Treatment” asserting that he suffered from chronic pain to his lower back as a result of his injury, that the authorized treating physician was not treating the pain, and that he had been denied a referral to pain management treatment.  In his motion, the employee requested that the trial court direct the employer to provide appropriate medical treatment.

After oral argument, the trial court entered an order finding that the employee was in “chronic moderate severe to severe pain…due to…his medical condition from the work-related accident” and directed the employer to refer the employee to a pain management specialist.  The employer filed a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

The Court of Civil Appeals heard oral arguments from the parties, which included the employer’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion when directing the employer to refer the employee to pain management absent a recommendation by an authorized physician.  Moreover, the employer argued that there was no medical record or medical opinion before the trial court to support the allegation that pain management was necessary.

On March 29, 2019, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals granted the employer’s writ of mandamus petition and entered an Order directing the trial court to vacate its order.  The Court held that the medical records before the court did not contain sufficient information to determine specialized treatment was reasonably necessary and that, “In the absence of such information, the determination that the employee requires pain-management treatment would have to be made by a medical expert.”

Nothing in the Court’s Order prevented the employee from obtaining evidence of necessary treatment in the future, but the decision did reaffirm that a trial court cannot make a medical judgment based solely on its authority to decide disputes as to necessity under Ala. Code §25-5-77(a).  It should be noted that, in this case, a trial to determine compensability had not been held and the trial court’s finding that the employee had a chronic pain condition arising out of a work-related injury was premature.