Posted in: In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views, Lawsuits, Workers' comp
If you ever watch detective shows or read Agatha Christie novels, you know motive is everything.
Figure out who had what to gain, and you’re on your way to cracking any case.
The employee in this case had plenty to gain by faking an injury. He’d been a dues-paying union member for 24 1/2 years. If he reached 25, he’d get the first-level pension he craved.
He knew he’d keep accruing time if he got hurt and got comp, and he knew he wouldn’t if he got laid off.
But word had leaked out. The plant was closing and layoffs were looming. Some would be transferred, but others were going to be let go.
So the company thought it was an interesting coincidence that he was injured just three days before the plant was set to close.
But when the case went to trial, the employee asked the judge to quash the part about the timing, claiming it would unfairly prejudice the jury. Over the company’s strong objections, the judge agreed.
The question of motive could not be raised.
Lots of mistakes
For the company, it became an even bigger issue seven months later, when the employee amended his comp claim to add “substantial aggravation of preexisting degenerative arthritis.” That could extend the claim indefinitely (and maybe help him reach the coveted 30-year mark).
What the jury got to hear was the best evidence the employee could muster, which happened to be – as a dissenting judge later suggested – extremely easy to fake.
He said he’d been tightening a chain on truck cargo when the chain caught, and he suddenly felt a pain in his neck.
After driving himself to the hospital, he was examined by an emergency room doc who reported that the employee denied having any feeling of numbness in his arms or legs, one of the symptoms he later claimed.
That doctor must have made a mistake, the employee told the court.
The same doc noted that the employee had equal strength in his upper extremities and no weakness or loss of sensation.
And the employee admitted that he’d made a “mistake” in his deposition when he denied ever having previous neck pain.
He’d forgotten about the five or so times he’d complained about neck pain to his family doctor.
Where’s the evidence?
To prove his case, the employee, the law said, had to present substantial and considerable objective evidence.
But all he presented was a doctor who said his neck didn’t seem to be feeling any better.
The company’s doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with the guy, other than the kinds of things associated with normal aging.
The only truly “objective” evidence the employee’s doctor had was a range-of-motion test that was easy to manipulate and relied on interpretation.
Bottom line: Even though the motive seemed a lot stronger than the evidence, the employee won. And an appeals court refused to overturn the decision.
Clearly, when it comes to comp, you can’t depend on life to imitate fictional crime stories.
Cite: Bohl v. Cassens Transport Co.