Wright Tree Service v. Juan Hernandez


Wright Tree Service v. Juan Hernandez

 Indiana Court of Appeals

June 8, 2009

Nathan Maudlin:  Plaintiff counsel

Tricia Bellich, David Mack:  Defense counsel

Kirsch, Judge.

Facts & Procedural History:

Juan Hernandez was loading tree limbs into a wood chipper when he was struck in the head and neck by a tree limb.  The force of the blow knocked the hard hat off Hernandez and him into the wood chipper, which had no emergency break.  The accident caused an immediate onset of pain in Hernadez’ neck and a one-inch gash in his head.  Soon after the accident he began feeling ill and had to rest.  Approximately one hour later, Hernandez collapsed due to a heart attack and later died.  Prior to the accident, he had not experienced any signs or symptoms of heart disease.  An angiography revealed two occluded arteries with extensive clotting.  The single hearing member and Full Board found Hernandez’ death compensable, and Wright Tree Service appealed the Board’s determination.

Judgment:  Affirmed.

Issue:  Whether the Board erred in finding Hernandez’ death compensable under the Worker’s Compensation Act.

Holding & Rationale:

The Board found that the stress and anxiety of the accident led to either a plaque rupture or coronary spasm causing Hernandez’ heart attack.  This determination was based on a report from an expert, Dr. Rothbaum, hired by plaintiff counsel.  The defendant argued that Dr. Rothbaum did not render an opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, and the report is thus insufficient to support the Board’s award.  However, the Court held that “in the instance where a doctor’s testimony falls short of reasonable medical certainty, such evidence cannot by itself support a verdict, the testimony can serve as probative when considered in conjunction with other relevant evidence,” and concluded that given the additional evidence that Mr. Hernandez was healthy prior to the accident and his immediate onset of pain and illness after the accident was sufficient to support causation.  The Court further noted that even if a pre-existing condition contributes to an injury, the employee is entitled to recover for the full extent of the injury, including an aggravation or triggering of a preexisting injury, causally connected with the employment.

Concur:  Riley, J., and B

Posted on 12/28/2009

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