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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Carl Pollitt was injured while in the course and scope of his employment on March 6, 1995. Centre Insurance Co. accepted his claim and began paying benefits. Pollitt reached statutory maximum medical improvement (MMI) on March 11, 1997, but he subsequently underwent three spinal surgeries. The first occurred on July 28, 1998, the second on Aug. 17, 1999 and the third on March 21, 2000. After the second surgery, Pollitt requested a benefit review conference to discuss his MMI and impairment rating. The parties did not reach a settlement at the conference, and the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission held a contested case hearing (CCH) on Dec. 21, 1999. The hearing officer found that statutory MMI occurred on March 11, 1997, and that Pollitt’s impairment rating was 10 percent. Pollitt appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the commission’s appeals panel, which affirmed. Pollitt then filed suit in Ector County. The trial court found that Pollitt’s condition had substantially changed. The commission-designated doctor re-examined Pollitt and determined that his impairment rating was now 26 percent. The trial court entered judgment for Pollit, holding that his impairment rating should be increased to 26 percent. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. Centre contended that the trial court erred by finding that Pollitt experienced a substantial change of condition and by finding that he had a 26 percent impairment rating. The Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, the court stated, provides medical and income benefits for injured employees. Eligibility for and the calculation of income benefits (excluding lifetime income benefits) is a function of whether the employee has reached MMI and, if so, whether he has an impairment rating. Section 401.011(30) of the act defines MMI as the earlier of: 1. the earliest date after which, based on reasonable medical probability, further material recovery from or lasting improvement to an injury can no longer reasonably be anticipated; 2. the expiration of 104 weeks from the date on which income benefits begin to accrue; or 3. the date determined as provided by Texas Labor Code �408.104 (for spinal surgeries). Consequently, unless an employee has or is scheduled for spinal surgery during this 104-week period, the Legislature has imposed a two-year deadline for reaching MMI. Section 410.307, the court stated, gives trial courts the authority to consider evidence of the extent of impairment that was not presented to the commission if the court first finds that there is a substantial change of condition. But trial courts may not make a decision that the commission also cannot. Thus, the court found that trial courts have no greater authority to reevaluate an impairment rating after the statutory MMI date than the commission. The court stated that it did not hold that trial courts lack the authority to consider whether a substantial change of condition has occurred merely because the hearing is held after the statutory date. Rather, the court stated that its holding was that a substantial change in condition must occur before the statutory date. Because Pollitt claimed that his condition substantially changed after his statutory MMI date, the court held that the trial court lacked the authority to find a substantial change of condition or to increase Pollitt’s impairment rating. OPINION:Strange, J.; Wright, C.J., and McCall and Strange, JJ.

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