by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
The start of baseball season has officially begun as Major League Baseball kicked off the season with Opening Day. MLB features professional athletes in the major leagues, but minor league baseball is also prevalent. There are many different levels to baseball: AAA, AA, high A and low A, depending on the player skill. The Birmingham Barons are the AA affiliate for the Chicago White Sox and play right here in downtown Birmingham (pictured above).
Much like the levels of baseball, a workers’ compensation claim has many levels: trial court (state Circuit Court), state appellate court (Alabama Court of Civil Appeals) and the Alabama State Supreme Court. Once a workers’ compensation claim has been heard at the trial court level, it is possible that either you or your employer might appeal the case. Appeals are taken because one of the parties believed the trial court committed an error (kind of like an error in baseball). Either you did not receive the benefits you wanted, or your employer ended up paying more than they bargained for.
Either way, the appeals process can be both costly and timely. But what can you expect at the appellate level as far as procedure goes? In light of the recent appellate decision of Brewton Area YMCA v. Lanier, an employer’s options may be more limited than expected, specifically when a judgment is found in favor of the injured.
In Lanier, Ms. Lanier was working at the Brewton Area YMCA (“the YMCA”) in Brewton, Alabama when she was injured at her desk. Ms. Lanier suffered fractures in her hips and lost consciousness during the workplace accident. At the trial court level, Ms. Lanier’s injuries were found to be compensable and she was determined to be permanently and totally disabled. She was awarded weekly wages, medical benefits, as well as temporary and permanent workers’ compensation benefits.
On appeal, the YMCA attempted to argue that Ms. Lanier was not credible. The employer argued she provided conflicting testimony as to what occurred. The appellate court did not value this argument, instead ruling that the trial court is the ultimate judge of credibility. Whether or not a witness is telling the truth or which truth is valid is up to the trial court to decide.
On appeal, the YMCA also argued that they failed to receive written notice of the workplace injury. However, the YMCA did notify their workers’ compensation insurance carrier that there may be a claim. The insurance carrier then contacted Ms. Lanier about her injury. The appellate court found this to be sufficient to indicate Brewton was aware of the injury insomuch as to properly prepare for a claim.
Additionally, the YMCA attempted to raise an issue over what should be included in computation of Ms. Lanier’s weekly wage. The appellate court dismissed this argument, as Brewton failed to raise the issue at the trial court level.
The Lanier decision demonstrates the challenges faced at the appellate level in terms of overturning a trial court decision. The appellate court is certainly an avenue to challenge a trial court decision; however, the appellate court has considerably less discretion than the trial court. Sometimes it may be best to let sleeping dogs lie, but it’s important to weigh the options after a trial court decision has been made.
If you have questions or concerns about your workers’ compensation claim, please do not hesitate to give us a call. We may be reached at 205–930–6900 or nomberglaw.com.
 No. 2150914 (Ala. Civ. App. Mar. 17, 2017)
Bernard D. Nomberg has practiced workers’ compensation law in Alabama for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Rated Attorney by B-Metro Magazine.