Brewington v. Rigsbee Auto Parts, 69 N.C. App. 168 (1984)

June 19, 1984 · North Carolina Court of Appeals · No. 8310IC786
69 N.C. App. 168

EARNEST L. BREWINGTON, Employee, Plaintiff v. RIGSBEE AUTO PARTS, Employer, AETNA LIFE & CAS. INS., Carrier, Defendants

No. 8310IC786

(Filed 19 June 1984)

Master and Servant §56— workers’ compensation — accident not cause of paralysis

A finding by the Industrial Commission that a work-related accident did not cause plaintiffs paralysis was supported by the evidence where it was stipulated that there was no organic basis for plaintiffs paralysis; psychiatric testimony tended to show that plaintiff suffered from “conversion hysteria,” that plaintiffs fall at work was a “triggering opportunity for gratification of previously unmet dependency needs,” and that the feelings and emotions causing plaintiffs conversion disorder were not related to his employment; and plaintiff testified that he felt good about his job and enjoyed what he was doing.

Appeal by plaintiff from the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Opinion and award by Full Commission filed 2 May 1983. Heard in the Court of Appeals 2 May 1984.

This is a workers’ compensation claim wherein plaintiff-employee seeks medical benefits, temporary total disability, and total permanent disability for injuries allegedly suffered in an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.

Plaintiff worked for Rigsbee Auto Parts, salvaging cars. On 30 March 1981, while removing a heavy gasoline tank from one of the cars, plaintiffs foot slipped. He felt something snap in his back and fell to the ground, landing on his back. At that time, plaintiff felt a numbness or pinching in his lower back. When he got in his truck, he felt a severe pain in his lower back when he depressed the clutch. He drove the truck back to the shop area, a distance of one mile, without using the clutch to change gears by switching the ignition on and off. He walked into the shop and then to his own car, where he ate his lunch. After eating lunch, defendant called to Mr. Rigsbee to help him out of the car because he was in pain and unable to move his legs. Mr. Rigsbee called the Rescue Squad who then took plaintiff to Wake County Memorial Hospital.

Doctors at Wake County Memorial Hospital found no outward sign of physical injury and no other abnormal physical condition to explain plaintiffs pain. X-rays of plaintiffs spine were *169normal. Plaintiff was transferred to North Carolina Memorial Hospital that same day. There, examination of plaintiff revealed no injury to the spinal cord, no abnormalities in a myelogram test, and no evidence of hemorrhages in plaintiffs spinal fluid. An extensive battery of tests revealed no physical basis for paralysis; in fact, plaintiff had reflexes in his ankles which indicated that his paralysis and numbness did not have an anatomic basis. Nevertheless, plaintiffs paralysis persisted. A psychiatrist at North Carolina Memorial Hospital indicated that plaintiff was suffering from a “conversion reaction.” A conversion reaction occurs when there is no anatomic basis for a set of physical symptoms; the physical symptoms originate in the brain and have as their basis some underlying conflict (such as the need to gratify unmet dependency needs or the need to express anger). This diagnosis was confirmed by Dr. Scarborough, another psychiatrist, after his examination of plaintiff. Plaintiff has stipulated that there is no organic basis for his paralysis.

Since plaintiffs discharge from North Carolina Memorial Hospital, his paralysis has continued and he spends most of the day in a wheelchair. In October of 1982, Deputy Commissioner Shepherd denied plaintiff benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, concluding that the accident caused no physical injury to plaintiff and that his paralysis was not caused by the accident. On 2 May 1983, the Full Commission adopted and affirmed Deputy Commissioner Shepherd’s decision denying plaintiffs claim. Plaintiff appeals.

Blanchard, Tucker, Twiggs, Denson & Earls, by Christine Y. Denson and Howard Twiggs, for plaintiff-employee.

Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jemigan, by C. Ernest Simons, Jr. and Steven M. Sartorio, for defendants.

EAGLES, Judge.

Plaintiff assigns as error the Industrial Commission’s failure to find that plaintiffs disability was causally related to plaintiffs accident at work on 30 March 1981. Plaintiff contends that there is no evidence in the record to support the Commission’s finding of fact that plaintiffs condition was not caused by the accident on 30 March 1981. We do not agree.

*170Findings of fact made by the Commission are conclusive on appeal when supported by competent evidence, even when there is evidence to support a contrary finding of fact. Walston v. Burlington Industries, 304 N.C. 670, 285 S.E. 2d 822 (1982). We must therefore determine whether there is competent evidence to support Deputy Commissioner Shepherd’s Finding of Fact Number 6 which was adopted by the Full Commission. It reads:

The incident which occurred at work on 30 March 1981 did not cause plaintiffs condition, but instead provided an “opportunity for gratification of [his] previously unmet dependency needs,” Plaintiffs Exhibit 1, and allowed him to let out feelings of anger which were difficult for him to express in any other way. There is no evidence that the nature of the accident or the fact that it occurred at work peculiarly contributed to the condition and symptoms which plaintiff now experiences.

The testimony of Dr. Walter A. Scarborough, Jr., a psychiatrist who examined plaintiff on two occasions, showed: that his diagnosis was that plaintiff suffered from “conversion hysteria”; that conversion hysteria is a loss of physical functioning that cannot be explained by a physical disorder but enables the individual to get support from his environment that he might not otherwise be getting; that the initial loss of function in a conversion disorder is the expression of unresolved emotional conflicts (the “primary gain”); that the continuing loss of function is a reaction to the gains the individual accrues as a result of the symptom, i.e., the support and care he receives (the “secondary gain”); that plaintiffs fall at work was a “triggering opportunity for gratification of previously unmet dependency needs”; and that the feelings and emotions causing plaintiffs conversion disorder here were not related to his employment. Plaintiffs own testimony was that he felt good about his job at Rigsbee and enjoyed what he was doing. We hold that this was competent evidence to support the Commission’s Finding of Fact Number 6 (that the accident did not cause plaintiffs paralysis) and that this finding of fact was conclusive. Walston, supra. The fact that plaintiffs fall at work was a “precipitating” or “triggering” event for his conversion disorder does not, without more, establish causation.

Because we hold that there was competent evidence to support the Commission’s finding of fact that the 30 March 1981 acci*171dent did not cause plaintiffs condition, we need not reach the issue of whether plaintiffs condition is a compensable injury.

The Opinion and Award of the Industrial Commission is


Chief Judge VAUGHN and Judge Braswell concur.