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Teco Energy, Inc. v. Williams

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

December 19, 2017

TECO ENERGY, INC. and TECO SERVICES, INC., Appellants,
v.
MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS, Appellee.

          NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Date of Accident: April 25, 2013.

         An appeal from an order of the Judge of Compensation Claims. Ellen H. Lorenzen, Judge.

          Gwen G. Jacobs of Bennett, Jacobs, & Adams, P.A., Tampa, for Appellants.

          Laurie Thrower Miles of Miles and Parrish, P.A., Lakeland, and Wendy S. Loquasto of Fox & Loquasto, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          M.K. THOMAS, J.

         Teco Energy, Inc. and Teco Services, Inc. ("E/C"), appeal a final order awarding compensability of a total knee replacement for Michael Williams ("Claimant") and related attorney fees and costs. The E/C argues the Judge of Compensation Claims ("JCC") erred by, 1) barring, as a matter of law, its defense of major contributing cause ("MCC"); and 2) applying, sua sponte, the "120-Day Rule" pursuant to section 440.20(4), Florida Statutes, as a limitation of available defenses. We agree and reverse.

         Factual & Procedural History

         On April 25, 2013, Claimant, a journeyman electrician, experienced pain in his left knee after slipping on the step of a pick-up truck at work. The E/C accepted compensability of the left knee injury and authorized medical care with Dr. Morse, an orthopedic surgeon. In February of 2011, Dr. Morse treated Claimant for a non-work related injury to the right knee, which required surgery. During that treatment, the doctor also examined the Claimant's left knee. Dr. Morse noted Claimant's left knee symptoms in 2011 included significant medial compartment pain, suggestive of either arthritis or a preexisting tear, but the doctor saw no need for treatment of the left knee at that time.

         When Dr. Morse examined Claimant after the April 25, 2013, workplace injury to the left knee, he reported significant preexisting left knee arthritis as confirmed by X-rays and an MRI. When compared to the 2011 examination, Claimant demonstrated more symptoms for grinding and pain behind the left kneecap. However, Claimant's symptoms were concentrated in the medial joint line which correlated with an acute injury of a medial meniscal tear. Dr. Morse recommended left knee surgical repair, and indicated seventy percent of the need for surgery was related to an aggravation from Claimant's underlying work injury, and thirty percent was related to preexisting left knee arthritis.

         The E/C authorized the left knee surgery. According to Dr. Morse, the surgery revealed minimal arthritis in the medial joint line and moderate arthritis behind the kneecap. Following the surgery, Dr. Morse placed Claimant at maximum medical improvement ("MMI") effective March 20, 2014, and assigned a three percent permanent impairment rating. As of the MMI date, Claimant's left knee was asymptomatic regarding the medial joint line with minimal symptoms of mild achiness associated with the arthritis.

         At the next office visit, almost a year later, Dr. Morse administered an injection to Claimant's left knee due to complaints of occasional aches and pain. In the medical record documenting the visit, Dr. Morse detailed the complaints were associated with Claimant's arthritis and activity level. In the Uniform Medical Treatment/Status Reporting Form (DWC-25) completed on March 12, 2015, Dr. Morse noted that a steroid injection was performed with no other change in status.

         Subsequently, Claimant advised of pain and stiffness on the inside of the left knee, which Dr. Morse reported as typically associated with arthritis. In an April 9, 2015 clinical note, Dr. Morse detailed:

Currently, he has signs and symptoms consistent with degenerative arthrosis... At this period of time, we recommend that the patient proceed with conservative management consisting of viscosupplementation and providing medial unloader brace. The treatment will be for the degenerative arthrosis and is not intended to treat the initial work injury. The patient will maintain ...

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