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Did employee forfeit his workers’ comp by having other income?

While on workers’ comp, this employee sold $1,355 worth of scrap metal. Did he violate the terms of workers’ comp by having another source of income? 

On Sept. 11, 2013, Todd Porche fell from a height of 8 to 14 feet onto a steel floor, injuring his back and head while working for Guichard Operating Co. LLC in Louisiana. He received workers’ comp benefits for wage replacement and medical bills. However, after a short period, the company challenged Porche’s comp benefits.

There are two issues in this case:

  • The company says Porche should forfeit all benefits because he didn’t report income from selling scrap metal while he was on comp, and
  • The insurance company denied compensation for back surgery for Porche because it was related to previous injuries, not the one in 2013 while working for Guichard.

Louisiana’s workers’ comp law says an employee who makes a false statement for the purpose of obtaining workers’ comp benefits forfeits the right to benefits.

A workers’ comp judge found Porche didn’t violate Louisiana workers’ comp law when he earned $1,355 selling scrap metal after his workplace injury. The company had argued that Porche didn’t report these earnings, therefore that constituted a false statement.

The judge said Porche did give a false statement in his deposition about whether or not he was selling scrap metal. However, the money he made from selling the scrap wasn’t a wage. Therefore, the judge said, Porche didn’t violate the law which “speaks in terms of reporting wages.”

In a recent appeal, a state court agreed with the comp judge’s assessment.

On the second issue, the workers’ comp judge found Porche suffered a head laceration and soft tissue muscular injury to his back when he fell at work.

Porche also suffered from a vertebrae fracture that he attributed to the fall, but the judge found the fracture had occurred in a previous non-work incident. The judge also found the fracture wasn’t aggravated by the work incident, but the muscles and ligaments surrounding the area were. The end result: The judge said workers’ comp shouldn’t cover the surgery for the fracture. The appeals court also agreed with this assessment.

Two pieces of take-home for employers:

  1. Not all “income” an injured worker earns while receiving workers’ comp wage-replacement benefits can be counted as wages, and
  2. An injured worker’s previous medical history may show that an injury isn’t necessarily work-related.

(Guichard Operating Co. LLC v. Todd Porche, Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit, No. 2015 CA 1942, 1/5/17)

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