Case Lesson: The Other Side of the Coin

03 Feb, 2022 Frank Ferreri

                               

Stuart, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Readers of Monday’s What Do You Think feature encountered the story of a skeptical court addressing a worker’s claim that he fell down stairs when he had the chance to take the elevator instead.

In the case involved in that feature, the court’s majority highlighted that it was “highly coincidental” that a 57-year-old man who weighed 284 pounds and had a prior knee surgery “would chose to walk down two flights of stairs in an allegedly dark stairwell” rather than wait a minute for the elevator.

Makes sense, right?

But maybe something else was going on. And, as happens frequently in court cases, a dissenting judge in the case wrote to raise some questions about that possible something else. So, why did that judge dissent? Highlighting that there’s more than one side to every story, the dissenting judge pointed out:

The worker immediately notified a coworker of his alleged accident and was transported by ambulance to the emergency room. There, the treatment providers documented multiple contusions, even though there was no obvious trauma.

The worker started having back problems for the first time after the accident. The worker testified that he had no prior back issues or injuries and there was no evidence showing that he injured his back in a separate accident unrelated to his work.

Inconsistencies don’t automatically defeat a case. The dissenter pointed out that previous cases have held that a claimant can prove an unwitnessed work-related accident occurred even when the claimant’s story wasn’t entirely straight. For example, in one case, the claimant said she injured her back while picking up boxes at work, but the medical records documented a consistent history of a back injury. Nonetheless, this inconsistency didn’t defeat her claim for benefits.

The elevator question wasn’t the end of the story. Although the majority in the case highlighted that employees usually took the elevator, this didn’t mean that the worker never took the stairs or that he would never opt against taking the elevator.

Why would the worker throw himself down the stairs over two days of pay? The majority found the timing of the injury suspicious, as occurred on the same day that the worker was subjected to discipline in the form of a two-day suspension. In response, the dissenters pointed out that the worker’s supervisors encouraged him to keep his job when he previously considered resigning and asked him to obtain additional training, to which he agreed.

The medical records didn’t show that the worker fabricated a story. While the majority pointed out that the worker had no visible bruising or skin abrasions documented after falling down the stairs, the medical records did show a disk injury, even though the worker had no previously reported back problems.

Courts have to make decisions based on the evidence before them. But, as this case demonstrates, that evidence could often take a case either way.

 


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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