A doctor cleared an injured worker for a specific light-duty job. The worker didn’t think she could do the offered job and didn’t show up for work. Did a court allow her to continue to receive workers’ comp benefits?
Paulette Freeman suffered low back strain, a fractured big toe and bruises while at work. Later, she was also diagnosed with a herniated disc.
A doctor who examined Freeman said she was capable of driving and returning to work in a light-duty, non-physical capacity. The doctor reviewed the light-duty position, that of “building substitute teacher,” and said she was capable of that job.
The job didn’t involve lifting, bending or carrying. The school is wheelchair accessible, and there would be no problem with Freeman sitting, standing or changing her position as needed.
However, Freeman said she had stopped driving because of spasms in her legs and couldn’t drive to the school. She also said pain all over her body interfered with her ability to think and focus.
And she presented testimony from another doctor who said she could not do the substitute teacher job.
A workers’ comp judge and then the workers’ comp appeals board both ruled in favor of the employer, saying that after Freeman didn’t report for her light-duty job, her benefits could be suspended. Freeman appealed once again to a state court.
The court agreed with the previous two rulings, that Freeman should no longer receive workers’ comp benefits after she failed to report to the light-duty job. The judges agreed with the workers’ comp judge that Freeman’s testimony lacked credibility because she changed her story more than once about a previous injury she suffered 20 years before the workplace incident.
The court also found the testimony of the doctor who said Freeman could go back to work more credible than that from the doctor who said she could not.
The judges also said Freeman’s demeanor conflicted with her testimony that her pain affected her ability to think and focus.
In this case, the employer took several steps to help its case:
- It offered the employee a light-duty job
- Details about the demands of the job were spelled out, and
- The employer took the specifics of the job to a doctor who had treated the injured employee and got an opinion that she was able to perform the necessary tasks for the position.
And it’s probably not a good idea for injured workers who want to remain on workers’ comp to claim they can’t think or focus and then appear to be perfectly able to do so in court.
Cite: Freeman v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Board, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 1278 C.D. 2009, 2/1/10.