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United Parcel Service v. Tibbits

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 12, 2014

UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, Employer Below, Appellant,
v.
RYAN TIBBITS, Claimant Below, Appellee

Submitted: March 19, 2014.

Case Closed June 20, 2014.

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County. C.A. No. N12A-03-006.

Before HOLLAND, BERGER, and JACOBS, Justices.

OPINION

Jack B. Jacobs, Justice.

ORDER

This 12th day of June 2014, upon consideration of the briefs of the parties and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

1. United Parcel Service (" UPS" ), the employer-below/appellant, appeals from a Superior Court judgment reversing an Industrial Accident Board (" Board" ) decision and granting the petition of claimant-below/appellee, Ryan Tibbits (" Tibbits" ) to determine compensation due. UPS claims that the Board decision denying Tibbits' petition is supported by substantial evidence and that, therefore, the Superior Court improperly disregarded the Board's factual findings. Alternatively, UPS argues, the Superior Court erred by not remanding the case to the Board for further proceedings. We affirm the Superior Court judgment insofar as it determined that the Board decision was not supported by the record. We remand the case to the Board, however, for further proceedings.

2. Tibbits began working for UPS in June 1997. On October 29, 2009, while working as a delivery truck driver, Tibbits was delivering packages on his Middletown route. At about 10:15 a.m., while crossing St. Georges' Bridge, Tibbits experienced " cramping" and " knotting pain" in his lower, left back.[1] Shortly afterwards, Tibbits reported his back trouble to UPS. Tibbits continued to work--with worsening pain--until 4:30 p.m. that day, when another UPS worker relieved him. The next day, Tibbits saw a doctor about his back pain. On November 11, 2009, Tibbits visited a hospital emergency room because of severe pain and spasms in his low back. He returned to the emergency room on November 18, 2009 after experiencing (for the first time) urine incontinence. Sometime thereafter, Tibbits began physical therapy treatment. On December 4, 2009, after his primary care physician's referral, Tibbits consulted with Dr. Kennedy Yalamanchili, a board-certified neurosurgeon.

3. On April 4, 2011, Tibbits filed a petition with the Board to determine compensation due for his October 29, 2009 injury.[2] A hearing was held on November 9, 2011, at which Tibbits testified and submitted the deposition testimony of Dr. Yalamanchili. After the hearing, UPS submitted the deposition testimony of Dr. Michael Mattern, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. The parties also submitted written closing arguments.[3]

4. Dr. Yalamanchili testified, based on his physical examination of Tibbits and a review of Tibbits' medical records, that Tibbits had a herniated lumbar disc, lumbar spondylosis without myelopathy, lumbar disc degeneration, and lumbar radiculopathy. Dr. Yalamanchili opined that Tibbits' symptoms were likely the result of an acute injury (as distinguished from chronic changes), probably caused by Tibbits' work-related lifting and driving activities. Dr. Yalamanchili concededly could not point to a specific episode or distinct trauma that caused Tibbits' injury, but he did agree that Tibbits' acute injury could have been caused by a single incident, or by cumulative stress. Dr. Yalamanchili also testified that, to the extent Tibbits suffered from degenerative changes, Tibbits' work activities would have aggravated those degenerative changes.

5. Dr. Mattern testified, based on his review of Tibbits' medical records, that Tibbits' symptoms were consistent with a muscle strain or sprain, and not a herniated disc. Dr. Mattern further opined that Tibbits' back injury was not necessarily caused by any specific triggering work-related incident, but more likely resulted from underlying degenerative changes. As Dr. Mattern explained, it is not uncommon for persons with underlying spine defects to experience episodic back pain. In 2008, Tibbits had experienced a similar onset of acute low back pain while brushing his teeth. Dr. Mattern conceded that prolonged, repetitive ...


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