A worker injured in an unwitnessed fall can collect workers’ compensation benefits because medical evidence supported his account of the incident.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals of Louisiana ruled that a workers’ compensation judge didn’t err in awarding benefits to the worker since the evidence supported his story, which the employer argued was false.
Worker had pre-existing, non-disabling condition
Brett Buckner worked for Dialysis Clinics, Inc. (DCI) as a supervising nurse manager in one of its dialysis clinics.
Buckner had pre-existing but non-disabling injuries that required him to use a knee scooter for assistance in moving and performing his duties for DCI.
The company made recommended work modifications in the past to accommodate Buckner’s employment at the clinic.
Fell while alone in back room
On April 25, 2020, Buckner fell out of his knee scooter in the facility’s back water room while on his way to confirm that a timing mechanism associated with the clinic’s carbon filtration system was operating correctly. The carbon filtration system removed chlorine from the city’s water supply and was a critical element for the safe operation of the clinic as it served its patients’ dialysis needs.
Buckner typically wouldn’t have been working on the day of the incident, but his supervisor adjusted his schedule to allow him to make up time he missed due to a doctor’s appointment.
In Buckner’s account of the incident, he said that the front wheels of his knee scooter locked after hitting a grate in the water room, throwing him over the handlebars of his scooter and causing him to land forehead first on the floor.
Buckner’s fall occurred when he was checking the mechanism for the second time of the day. During the first inspection, he was accompanied by his supervisor, but for the second inspection he was alone.
After his fall, Buckner used his cell phone to call his supervisor for help while he was still lying on the floor. Buckner was then transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
Employer refuses to provide benefits
DCI didn’t believe Buckner’s account of the incident and refused to provide workers’ compensation benefits. Buckner filed a disputed claim for compensation on June 10, 2020.
In July 2021, a workers’ compensation judge found that Buckner met his burden of proof in establishing that his injuries, which required medical treatment and surgery, were the result of a work-related incident.
The judge ordered DCI to reimburse Buckner’s health insurer for any expenses related to his work-related injuries and provide workers’ compensation benefits from the date of the incident going forward, along with penalties, attorney fees and all costs.
‘There’s a reasonable factual basis supporting judge’s decision’
On appeal, DCI argued the workers’ compensation judge erred in finding Buckner met his burden in proving the unwitnessed incident was work-related.
However, the appeals court disagreed. It stated that the judge’s decision was based on substantial evidence. The judge found Buckner to be a credible witness whose account of the incident was supported by several doctors who had been treating Buckner for his pre-existing condition. Four of those doctors noted in Buckner’s medical records that he had new injuries.
“Clearly, there is a reasonable factual basis in the record in support of the findings of the (judge), and therefore, we conclude that the (judge) did not manifestly err,” the appeals court stated. “Therefore, this assignment of error is without merit.”
The appeals court upheld the workers’ compensation judge’s decision, but found that the judge did err in calculating what monetary benefits Buckner should receive and corrected them appropriately.