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Jensen-Price v. Encompass Medical Group

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

August 23, 2016

BONNIE JENSEN-PRICE, Appellant,
v.
ENCOMPASS MEDICAL GROUP and TREASURER OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI - CUSTODIAN OF THE SECOND INJURY FUND, Respondents.

         APPEAL FROM THE LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION

          Before Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judges.

          Lisa White Hardwick, Judge.

         Bonnie Jensen-Price appeals the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission's ("Commission") decision denying her claim for permanent total disability benefits after a maintenance worker's cart collided with her leg and caused her to fall as she was engaged in a work activity for her job with Encompass Medical Group ("Employer"). Jensen-Price contends the Commission's decision constituted an erroneous application of the law and was not supported by the evidence. For reasons explained herein, we reverse the Commission's decision and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Jensen-Price is 66 years old. She graduated from high school, received her RN certificate, and completed her coursework and certification to be a nurse practitioner. Jensen-Price worked as a nurse practitioner for Employer for over 30 years. As a nurse practitioner, her job duties included evaluating, treating, and diagnosing patients; ordering labs and tests; interacting with patients, which sometimes required her to lift heavy patients; and computerized charting. Jensen-Price worked ten or more hours per day and was on her feet for almost eight hours each day. She worked five days a week and took eight hours of work home to complete each weekend. She rarely missed work and received raises and good work evaluations.

         Jensen-Price saw patients in Employer's office, which was in a leased suite on the fourth floor of a commercial office building. Employer's office was accessible by taking either the stairs or elevators to the fourth floor, then walking down a hallway to the Employer's suite.

         On August 6, 2010, Jensen-Price left Employer's office at approximately 7:00 p.m. and walked down the hallway to the elevator. She was carrying her purse on one arm and had her laptop computer, which she was taking home to perform work for Employer, in a rolling briefcase that she was pulling with her other arm. When the elevator door opened, it appeared dark inside the elevator, and no one came out of the elevator. Jensen-Price started to walk into the elevator when, all of a sudden, a housekeeping cart came out of the elevator and hit her leg, causing her to fall to the floor. The floor was carpeted concrete. Jensen-Price injured her back and the back of her head in the fall, and was diagnosed with a fracture of the first lumbar vertebra and a disk herniation at the L4-5 level.

         Jensen-Price requested treatment for her injuries from Employer, but Employer denied her request. On her own, Jensen-Price sought out pain management medications, injections, and surgical repair of her back injury, with follow-up physical therapy. She developed post-surgical complications, including a post-operative infection in her incision site and a pulmonary embolism. The infection has caused her to have ongoing pain at the surgical site. After her back surgery, Jensen-Price suffered a heart attack, which required stent placement. Her medical bills thus far total $77, 703.13.

         Since her 2010 accident, Jensen-Price continues to have significant back pain, which she rates a six out of ten on the pain scale. She takes narcotic pain medication and muscle relaxers because the pain in her back never goes away and causes aching in her hips and legs. Jensen-Price's back pain interrupts her sleep, causing her to get only four to six hours of sleep a night. Consequently, she sometimes naps during the day and needs to lie down, with a heating pad on her back, for 30 minutes to an hour up to three times each day. As a result of her head injury from the incident, she continues to have occasional headaches, dizziness, and balance issues.

         Jensen-Price has difficulty performing her own personal grooming and household chores. She cannot sit, stand, or walk for extended periods, and she uses a cane for stability while walking outdoors or on stairs. Since her accident, she no longer participates in her preferred hobbies of dancing, walking, and shopping, and she drives only short distances.

         Jensen-Price filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits against Employer and the Second Injury Fund. In her claim, she alleged that her injury from the 2010 accident, plus a prior back injury and fibromyalgia, rendered her either permanently and partially disabled or permanently and totally disabled.

         In December 2014, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on Jensen-Price's claim. In addition to her own testimony, Jensen-Price offered medical records, medical bills, and the reports of her medical expert, Employer's medical expert, and her vocational expert. Both of the medical experts and the vocational expert opined that Jensen-Price was permanently and totally disabled.

         The ALJ denied Jensen-Price's claim for compensation. The ALJ found that Employer had no control over the common areas of the building, which included the hallway where Jensen-Price sustained her injuries. The ALJ further found that the incident occurred as Jensen-Price was going from work and, because the accident did not occur on property owned or controlled by Employer, her injury was not compensable.

         Jensen-Price appealed to the Commission. The Commission found that, because Jensen-Price was carrying her laptop with her for the purpose of performing some work for Employer at her home, she was engaged in the process of going from one worksite to another when the accident occurred. As a result, the Commission determined that the ALJ's application of the extension of premises doctrine, which is an exception to the going to and from work rule, was not appropriate in this case. Rather, the Commission concluded that compensability ...


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