By Jane Salem, staff attorney, Nashville
It just had to feel “right.”
So says Judge Deana Seymour about her process when finalizing an order after an evidentiary hearing. After applying the facts to the law and before signing it, she always did a gut check. That doesn’t mean she always got it right; but often, as highlighted below, she did.
Memphis is typically the busiest docket in the state for workers’ comp cases. As a result, that docket often has cases with issues of first impression under the Reform Act of 2013.
Judge Seymour, who retired on Aug. 31, recently reflected back on some of the more memorable issues and people during her five years on the bench.
Consider the very first opinion she wrote, Limberakis v. Pro-Tech Security, which was appealed.
In Limberakis, the authorized treating physician placed the employee at maximum medical improvement, determined he needed no additional treatment, and refused to see him. At the expedited hearing, the employee testified that he wasn’t able to set another appointment, and he still had symptoms. Judge Seymour found him credible and ordered the employer to offer a panel.
In affirming, the Board found it significant and determinative that the claim was accepted and the case was at the interlocutory stage.
Another notable case for Judge Seymour was Benson v. Jones Bros. Contractors, LLC. The employee suffered fairly minor physical injuries on the highway where he was working a road crew. But when he alleged PTSD from the work incident, the employer told him something along the lines of, “toughen up.”
Judge Seymour granted temporary disability benefits for the mental injury even after he reached maximum medical improvement for the physical injury.
More recently, in Braden v. Mohawk, the employee injured his ankle at work and underwent surgery to repair it. He later fell at work, injuring the same ankle. The authorized doctor thought the two injuries were related and stemmed from work. Judge Seymour agreed, applying the direct and natural consequences rule.
After holding oral argument, the Appeals Board affirmed last spring.
Another recent affirmance—this time from a Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Panel—came in Pearson v. Memphis Light Gas and Water Division. The Panel affirmed Judge Seymour’s ruling that the date an attorney learns of the work-relatedness of an injury is imputed to his client for purposes of the discovery rule and statute of limitations.
Those cases stand out for the legal issues they presented. But others were meaningful for Judge Seymour because of the people involved.
Consider the self-represented worker who suffered cardiac arrest on the job but didn’t offer a medical opinion linking it to work. After the hearing, “She said she felt fortunate to be alive, and she thanked me for my time and hearing what she had to say. And sometimes, that’s what they really need.”
As for coworkers, Judge Seymour offered high praise for Memphis staff attorney Rhoberta Orsland.
“We operated like a well-oiled machine from the beginning. Rhoberta returned early from maternity leave five years ago to help me transition from private practice. Her humility, compassion and complete knowledge of the law and rules of court were amazing,” Judge Seymour said.
“Together, Rhoberta and I meticulously worked through each case, applied the law and drafted our opinions. Yes, they were all ‘ours,’ not mine alone. Many mornings before the sun came up, we discussed complex issues before the Court. Many nights after Rhoberta tucked her children in to bed, we continued our analysis of first-impression cases.
“I refer to Rhoberta as my middle child and am very honored to have worked with this impressive colleague.”
Judge Seymour continued, “I also had some very good lawyers appear before me, who are working through some difficult issues. It’s rewarding to see how seriously they take this—lawyers on both sides.”
Looking ahead, Judge Seymour plans to sharpen her (already pretty great) photography skills.
She and her husband of 47 years, Douglas Seymour, also plan to travel more often. While they thoroughly enjoyed Hawaii a few years ago, some of their most memorable journeys have occurred when they didn’t have much of a plan but just “threw a suitcase in the back seat and hit the road.”
And of course, Judge Seymour will continue to spoil her four grandchildren.
But first up… she will report for jury duty later this month. It will be different for her to enter a courtroom wearing something other than a robe. But Judge Seymour is looking forward to it and hopes she’s picked to be a trier of fact once again.