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Workers' Compensation

Texas: City of Port Arthur v. Brown

This case [2011 Tex. App. LEXIS 7881] concerns when a jury can disregard the testimony of the only expert who provided opinions or testimony to a jury.

Tanner Brown was a City of Port Arthur (City) employee injured during a low-impact collision while riding in a city-owned vehicle.  The injured worker continued working after the accident.  An MRI revealed no structural defect at L4-5.  But the treating doctor, Dr. Craig, felt the herniation was at L4-5.  The injured worker underwent surgery at L4-5.  Dr. Craig requested and the City preauthorized spinal surgery.  The city exercised its subrogation rights and sued the third party responsible for the accident.  Dr. Craig was the only testifying expert.  He testified the MVA caused the L4-5 HNP.  Nevertheless, jury found against the City.

The City appealed arguing the expert report of Dr. Craig was uncontroverted and thus must be taken as true.  The court of appeals writes, “The uncontroverted expert testimony does not bind jurors unless the subject matter is one for the experts alone.”

In Workers’ Compensation cases, carriers often pay for injuries under an aggravation theory; that is, the carrier is responsible for the entire condition if that condition was enhanced, accelerated, or worsened.  In civil trials, the plaintiff must prove the accident actually caused the injury.  In this case, the City had to prove the MVA caused the L4-5 herniation.

The Court of Appeals found Dr. Craig’s testimony could be disregarded by the jury because 1) a herniated discs can have a number of different causes other than trauma; 2) a history provided by the injured worker is by its very nature subjective; 3) the radiologist found no defect at L4-5 contradicting Dr. Craig’s opinion; and 4) no pre-injury test established the condition of Tanner’s pine before the injury.

The Court of Appeals found Dr. Craig’s testimony was not conclusive on the issue of causation so the jury is free to disregard it.