Appeals court reverses jury verdict, yanks firefighter's benefits

David Yates Sep. 21, 2010, 11:18am

Justices seated on the Ninth Court of Appeals recently reversed a jury verdict which allowed a 30-year veteran of the Beaumont Fire Department to keep his medical benefits.

Firefighter Tracy O'Quinn sued the city of Beaumont In February 2008, claiming the city refused to continue to compensate him for a heart attack he suffered on the job on Nov. 6, 1995, court records show.

A year and a half later, a Jefferson County jury sided with O'Quinn and extended the scope of his compensable benefits. The city appealed.

Justices reversed the jury verdict on Sept. 16, opining that there was "insufficient evidence" to support their conclusion.

O'Quinn was persuaded to file the suit after a Worker's Compensation Appeals Panel ruled in November 2007 that his "compensable injury does not include coronary artery disease, high-density lipoprotein (high cholesterol) and gastritis," court records show.

In contrast to the appeals panel's ruling, the jury found that O'Quinn's "compensable injury" did include coronary artery disease and gastritis. The jury did, however, side with the appeals panel in finding that the injury does not include HDL.

Shortly after the jury verdict was officially entered on July 30, 2009, the city filed a motion for a new trial, court papers say.

Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court, denied the motion and the city appealed.

The city contended in legal briefs "that there is no competent evidence to support the jury's findings, or, in the alternative, that the evidence is so weak and the findings so contrary to the weight of the evidence that the verdict should be set aside."

Conversely, O'Quinn argued that "sufficient" evidence was presented, which included testimony from his cardiologist.

"Testimonial and documentary evidence, though disputed, constituted legally sufficient evidence to support the jury's findings in O'Quinn's favor," states O'Quinn appeals brief. "Therefore, the judgment should be affirmed."

Nonetheless, justices concluded that "the evidence in the record is legally insufficient to support the jury's findings," according to the court's opinion, authored by Justices Charles Kreger.

"Even were we to view the documentary evidence submitted by O'Quinn as evidence pertinent to the issues before the jury, and we do not, we note that the opinions stated therein are bare conclusions insufficient to support the judgment," the opinion states.

"We ... render judgment that Tracy A. O'Quinn's compensable injury of Nov. 6, 1995, does not include coronary artery disease, HDL (high density lipoprotein) or gastritis."

O'Quinn is represented by attorney John Werner of the Beaumont law firm Reaud, Morgan and Quinn.

The city is represented by Beaumont attorneys Don Lighty and Michael Rose of the Stevens Baldo Freeman & Lighty law firm.

Trial case No. B181-294
Appeals case No. 09-09-00448-CV

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