When workers don’t report injuries right away and then apply for workers’ comp benefits, it often raises a red flag. With conflicting testimony, these cases often come down to which side the court finds more believable.
Rodney Harris claimed he injured his back at work on July 6, 2007, while lifting a drain from a machine. He says it happened 15 minutes before the end of his shift, the day before he was scheduled to begin a one-week vacation.
He didn’t report his injury that day, and even admitted, when the case went to court, that he knew about the company’s policy that injuries must be reported to a supervisor immediately.
Harris said one reason he didn’t report the injury was because he’d suffered from pulled muscles in his back before, and that’s all he thought it was.
Over the weekend, his back pain increased. The following Monday, while on vacation, he saw a doctor.
Harris was diagnosed with a large disk herniation and severe degenerative disk disease in his lower back.
He eventually applied for workers’ comp benefits. The company didn’t think Harris had been injured at work, and the case eventually went to trial.
Among the facts recorded by the court:
- The medical records from his first two doctor visits don’t indicate that Harris’ injury was work-related.
- Harris’ wife claims, on the day her husband was to return to work after vacation, she called his employer, Keystone Foods, to say he suffered a work-related back injury before vacation. However, Harris’ supervisor says there was no mention of the injury being work-related during the call.
- A neurosurgeon that Harris saw after his first two doctor visits also has no record that the injury was work-related in his documents.
- Harris is legally deaf. His wife and mother both said communication problems with the doctors were the reasons there were no mentions of the injury being work-related in their medical records.
- Harris’ doctors said they weren’t comfortable saying that his back injury was work-related because they had no documentation of a workplace accident.
Taking all these statements into consideration, both a trial court and appeals court found Harris’ testimony, along with that of his wife and mother, to be credible. It found that it was likely that communication problems Harris had with his doctors contributed to the fact that the injury happened at work was missing from their records.
The court upheld Harris’ workers’ comp benefits with one exception. Alabama law says if notice of a workplace injury isn’t given within five days, an employee won’t be entitled to medical benefits that may have accrued before the date of notice.
So the court said his initial doctors’ visits before he notified the company about the injury would not be covered.
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Cite: Keystone Foods v. Harris, Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama, 6/4/10.