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Rogers v. Jack's Supper Club

Supreme Court of Nebraska

December 6, 2019

Sheryl A. Rogers, appellee,
Jack's Supper Club and Continental Western Group, appellants.

         1. Workers' Compensation: Appeal and Error. A judgment, order, or award of the compensation court may be modified, reversed, or set aside only upon the grounds that (1) the compensation court acted without or in excess of its powers; (2) the judgment, order, or award was procured by fraud; (3) there is not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the judgment, order, or award; or (4) the findings of fact by the compensation court do not support the order or award.

         2. ___: ___ . An appellate court is obligated in workers' compensation cases to make its own determinations as to questions of law.

         3. ___: ___. Findings of fact made by the Workers' Compensation Court after review have the same force and effect as a jury verdict and will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.

         4. Workers' Compensation: Witnesses: Testimony. As the trier of fact, the Workers' Compensation Court is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony.

         5. Statutes: Intent. When interpreting a statute, the starting point and focus of the inquiry is the meaning of the statutory language, understood in context.

         6. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Statutory language is to be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and an appellate court will not resort to interpretation to ascertain the meaning of statutory words which are plain, direct, and unambiguous.

         7. Statutes. It is not within the province of the courts to read meaning into a statute that is not there or to read anything direct and plain out of a statute.

         8. Statutes: Legislature: Intent. When words of a particular clause, taken literally, would plainly contradict other clauses of the same statute, or [304 Neb. 606] lead to some manifest absurdity or to some consequences which a court sees plainly could not have been intended, or to result manifestly against the general term, scope, and purpose of the law, then the court may apply the rules of construction to ascertain the meaning and intent of the lawgiver, and bring the whole statute into harmony if possible.

         9. Statutes: Legislature: Public Policy. It is the function of the Legislature, through the enactment of statutes, to declare what is the law and public policy of this state.

         10. Workers' Compensation: Liability. Voluntary payments of workers' compensation benefits do not constitute an admission of liability by an employer.

          Appeal from the Workers' Compensation Court: J. Michael Fitzgerald, Judge.

          Caroline M. Westerhold and Eric J. Sutton, of Baylor Evnen, L.L.P., for appellants.

          Margaret R. Jackson, Todd R. McWha, and Tyler Volkmer, of Waite, McWha & Heng, for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.

          Papik, J.

         The Workers' Compensation Court ordered Jack's Supper Club and Continental Western Group, its workers' compensation carrier (collectively JSC), to reimburse Sheryl A. Rogers for various medical expenses she incurred. In the same decision, the compensation court stated that Rogers could continue to receive treatment from certain providers. We agree with JSC, however, that it is not responsible to reimburse Rogers, because she selected the physicians who provided the treatment at issue in disregard of provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. We also agree with JSC that the compensation court failed to adequately explain the basis for its order that Rogers could continue to receive treatment from the specified providers. We thus reverse the order and remand the cause with directions.

         [304 Neb. 607] BACKGROUND

         Injury, Selection of Physician in Form 50, and Settlement.

         Rogers injured her back while working for Jack's Supper Club in 2001. Shortly after the injury, she filled out a form indicating that she was choosing a "Dr. Beyers" at the Dundy County Hospital in Benkelman, Nebraska, to treat her for her work-related injury. The parties appear to agree that the form was a "Form 50" promulgated by the Workers' Compensation Court.

         Rogers later filed a petition in the compensation court against JSC. After some litigation regarding Rogers' claim, the compensation court approved a lump-sum settlement in 2010. The settlement resolved JSC's liability for indemnity benefits. JSC remained responsible to pay Rogers for reasonable and necessary medical care for her work-related injury.

         Dispute Regarding Reimbursement for Medical Expenses.

         At some point not clear from our record, Dr. Beyers, the physician that Rogers selected in the Form 50, died. Rogers then received treatment from Dr. Lori Stonehocker, one of Dr. Beyers' colleagues. JSC apparently reimbursed Rogers for treatment provided by Dr. Stonehocker.

         In 2010, Rogers moved to Florida and the parties' counsel engaged in a series of communications regarding Rogers' treating physician. JSC initially expressed concern about Rogers' receiving treatment from a provider in Nebraska while living in Florida. It proposed that the parties agree to a pain management specialist in Florida. Rogers' counsel responded that she would not agree with JSC to a pain management specialist. Rogers' counsel later informed JSC's counsel that Rogers had selected Dr. Jonathan Daitch, a pain management specialist in Florida. After Rogers' counsel informed JSC's counsel that there was no Form 50 and that Rogers was free to select her ...

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