Safety and OSHA News

No one saw him fall, his story changes: Will he get workers’ comp?

Imagine this injury case: No one saw an employee’s fall. On top of that, some details of his story change over time. Is it worth contesting his workers’ comp claim? 

James Brewer worked for First Stop Core & Battery LLC in North Carolina, unloading trucks, and separating and weighing metals.

Brewer had been working at First Stop for just a few weeks when he filed a workers’ comp claim. Brewer says he injured his back when he fell into a pit. The company denied his claim. His case went before a deputy of the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

Brewer testified he was unloading metal from a customer’s truck when his foot slipped, causing him to fall and flip backward into a pit. He described the pit as “three stories high.”

Three people working at First Stop that day testified Brewer didn’t report a fall or injury, and he performed his duties as usual without any signs of having injured himself.

Brewer’s doctor said he was led to believe the patient fell onto some metal. The doctor said he wasn’t aware Brewer claimed he fell 15 to 20 feet into a pit. If he’d fallen that distance into a pit, his injuries would have been much worse, according to the doctor.

What might be the final straw in this case: Video surveillance of the scrap yard on the day Brewer says he was injured didn’t show any fall or injury.

The deputy commissioner and the full Commission both found Brewer’s testimony wasn’t credible. The Commission ruled Brewer shouldn’t receive workers’ comp benefits because he didn’t prove he suffered a work-related injury. Brewer took his case to a state appeals court.

On appeal, Brewer claimed the Commission erred by crediting the wrong testimony – other workers’ over his own. But the court said it wouldn’t reweigh the evidence. Weighing believability of witnesses is the Commission’s job.

The court also noted that, in the course of his case, Brewer attributed his low back pain to a “fall from a bed of a truck used for weighing scrap metal,” “falling into a pit at the scrap yard,” “falling at work,” and falling “on some metal and hurting his back.”

The appeals court affirmed the Commission’s decision that Brewer shouldn’t receive workers’ comp benefits.

About our initial question – was it worth it to contest Brewer’s workers’ comp claim? – given the lack of evidence of a workplace fall, his inconsistent accounts, testimony from other workers and lack of video evidence, the answer is Yes.

(James E. Brewer v. First Stop Core & Battery LLC, Court of Appeals of North Carolina, No. COA17-424, 10/17/17)

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