Appeal No. 2051550 (Claim No. 2015033422)
issue presented on appeal is the compensability of Mr.
Travis's claim for workers' compensation benefits
arising from a splenic rupture. The claims administrator
rejected Mr. Travis's claim on June 11, 2015. On August
16, 2016, the Office of Judges reversed the claims
administrator's decision and held the claim compensable.
This appeal arises from the Board of Review's Final Order
dated March 20, 2017, in which the Board affirmed the Order
of the Workers' Compensation Office of Judges. The Court
has carefully reviewed the records, written arguments, and
appendices contained in the briefs, and the case is mature
for consideration. The facts and legal arguments are
adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented,
we affirm the decision of the Board of Review.
31, 2015, Mr. Travis received treatment in the emergency
department of Barnesville Hospital for severe abdominal pain
in the left upper quadrant. Diagnostic imaging revealed the
presence of a ruptured spleen and Michael Baum, M.D.,
performed an emergency splenectomy. A post-surgical
examination of Mr. Travis's spleen revealed no abnormal
pathology and the presence of a splenic laceration. The
diagnosis was a ruptured spleen. During a follow-up
examination, a Report of Injury was completed by Mr. Travis
and Dr. Baum. In the Report, Mr. Travis indicated that on May
31, 2015, he sustained an injury to his spleen when he was
punched in the back by a coworker. Dr. Baum listed Mr.
Travis's diagnosis as a ruptured spleen resulting from an
occupational injury. On June 11, 2015, the claims
administrator rejected Mr. Travis's claim for
workers' compensation benefits.
September 14, 2015, Mr. Travis testified via deposition. Mr.
Travis indicated that during his lunch break on May 31, 2015,
a coworker "punched" him on the left side of the
back following a comment made by Mr. Travis to the coworker.
He testified that he felt immediate pain following the
incident and knew immediately that he was injured. Mr. Travis
further testified that he never received any medical
treatment regarding his spleen prior to May 31, 2015.
December 3, 2015, A.K., Mr. Travis's coworker, testified
via deposition. A.K. identified himself as the coworker
who struck Mr. Travis. However, he described the contact as a
"jab" in the back following an insulting comment
from Mr. Travis. A.K. indicated that at the time of the
incident, he and Mr. Travis were seated with their backs
facing one another. He then testified that immediately after
the incident, Mr. Travis clutched his abdomen and stated that
he was in pain. A.K. further testified that he did not hear
Mr. Travis complain of abdominal pain prior to the incident.
of Mr. Travis's coworkers also testified via deposition
on December 3, 2015, regarding Mr. Travis's physical
condition prior to the incident. Billy Durig indicated that
he witnessed Mr. Travis holding his abdomen on the morning of
May 31, 2015. Mr. Durig further testified that Mr. Travis
reported to him that he thought he pulled a muscle. James
Phillips Jr. stated that he heard Mr. Travis report
complaints of chest pain on the morning of May 31, 2015,
which had been ongoing for the past year. Scott Rickrode
testified that on the morning of May 31, 2015, Mr. Travis
complained of lower abdominal pain and indicated that he
believed he had pulled a muscle. Mr. Rickrode further
testified that when he saw Mr. Travis again following their
lunch break, Mr. Travis reported experiencing extreme pain.
Mellott, Mr. Travis's coworker, also testified via
deposition on December 3, 2015. He stated that Mr. Travis
complained of stomach pain on the morning of the date of
injury. Mr. Mellott then testified that he was the only
witness to the incident involving Mr. Travis and A.K. He
further testified that during the scheduled lunch break on
May 31, 2015, Mr. Travis and A.K. were sitting with their
backs to one another while A.K. was making a telephone call.
He then stated that Mr. Travis made a joke about the
substance of the telephone conversation, to which A.K.
responded with a "slight jab" in the back. Mr.
Mellott testified that Mr. Travis immediately stated
"that hurt." He further stated that following
lunch, he overheard Mr. Travis speaking over a two-way radio
and that it was obvious from the tone of Mr. Travis's
voice that his condition was rapidly deteriorating.
Dr. Baum testified via deposition on December 9, 2015. He
testified that during the course of his treatment, Mr. Travis
reported that he was injured when a coworker punched him in
the back. Dr. Baum further testified that Mr. Travis did not
report experiencing any prior problems or symptoms. He then
testified that the injury to Mr. Travis's spleen was
secondary to trauma and could not have been caused by a
non-traumatic event because an examination of Mr.
Travis's spleen revealed that it was of normal size with
no evidence of disease present. Dr. Baum testified that Mr.
Travis's description of being punched in the back is
clearly the mechanism of injury which resulted in Mr.
Travis's ruptured spleen.
Order reversing the June 11, 2015, claims administrator's
decision, the Office of Judges held the claim
compensable. The Board of Review affirmed the reasoning
and conclusions of the Office of Judges in its decision dated
March 20, 2017. On appeal, Brand Services, by Michael Kawash,
its attorney, asserts that Mr. Travis did not sustain a
compensable injury because he was engaged in horseplay at the
time of the injury. Alternatively, Brand Services asserts
that Mr. Travis did not sustain a compensable injury because
his ruptured spleen arose from non-compensable, pre-existing
conditions. Mr. Travis, by William Gallagher, his attorney,
asserts that the evidence of record clearly demonstrates that
he suffered a ruptured spleen solely as the result of a punch
from a coworker.
outset, the Office of Judges found that the incident which
occurred on May 31, 2015, was not the result of horseplay. In
reaching its conclusion that Mr. Travis sustained a
compensable injury, the Office of Judges relied upon Dr.
Baum's deposition testimony during which he stated that
Mr. Travis's splenic rupture could not have been caused
by a non-traumatic event. The Office of Judges then found
that the record does not contain evidence indicating that Mr.
Travis sustained any type of injury other than the jab or
punch delivered by A.K. and, therefore, concluded that Mr.
Travis sustained a compensable injury. We agree with the
reasoning and conclusions of the Office of Judges, as
affirmed by the Board of Review.
foregoing reasons, we find that the decision of the Board of
Review is not in clear violation of any constitutional or
statutory provision, nor is it clearly the result of
erroneous conclusions of law, nor is it based upon a material
misstatement or mischaracterization of the evidentiary
record. Therefore, the decision of the Board of Review is
CONCURRED IN BY: Chief Justice Allen H. Loughry II Justice
Robin J. Davis Justice Margaret L. Workman Justice Menis ...