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Trial Court Not Bound By Impairment Ratings Assigned By Treating Physician

In Tuscaloosa County v. Beville, 28 ALW 170-3 (2171022), 4/19/2019, Employee Chaka Beville (“Beville”) slipped and fell while working in the course and scope of her employment at the Tuscaloosa County jail in 2014, injuring her left wrist.  She was treated by her authorized treating physician, Dr. Buckley, who performed surgery and later ordered a Functional Capacities Evaluation (“FCE”). 

While no specific restrictions were recommended, Dr. Buckley assigned a four percent (4%) impairment rating to Beville’s left upper extremity and the therapist believed that Beville could not return to her pre-injury work as a correctional officer. 

The case was tried on June 28, 2017.  The parties stipulated that Beville was assigned a 4% impairment to the left arm by Dr. Buckley; however, the trial court found instead, that Beville had suffered a 60% injury to her left arm and Tuscaloosa County appealed.

Tuscaloosa County first argued that the trial court failed to honor the parties’ joint stipulation that Beville suffered a 4% impairment rating as assigned by her authorized treating physician, Dr. Buckley.  Beville argued in response however, that this stipulation did not foreclose the trial court from considering a different impairment rating based on the evidence presented at trial.  Further, the appellate court noted that the trial court asked the parties to address this issue in their post-trial briefs, and Tuscaloosa County conceded in its brief that the trial court could consider a different rating based on the evidence. 

Second, Tuscaloosa County argued that the trial court’s determination of a 60% impairment rating was not supported by the evidence; however, the trial court stated in its judgment that its decision was based on the medical records, FCE and observations of Beville at trial.  The appellate court noted that the trial court is not bound by opinions of medical experts and that the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the trial court’s findings. 

Therefore, the appellate court concluded that despite the fact that Dr. Buckley assigned a 4% impairment rating to Beville’s left upper extremity as a result of her accident, the trial court’s finding of a 60% impairment rating to the left arm was supported by substantial evidence and affirmed.