In a recent case before the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal, the court addressed whether an injured worker had established through lay testimony that his injury was work-related, and not a gradual deterioration of previous back pain. The appellate court stated the rule that a Worker’s Compensation Judge may consider all testimony, lay and medical, and that neither form of testimony is provided more weight.
Plaintiff Jay Marshall worked for the Town of Winnsboro for 33 years, ultimately serving as water supervisor. His duties included directing a crew of three men, as well as participating in heavy labor. While Mr. Marshall admittedly suffered several back injuries over the years, treatment had allowed him to recover and return to work.
An incident occurred in which Mr. Marshall injured his back pulling a probing rod out of the ground, while he had been searching for a water line. Three crew members witnessed his injury and saw that Mr. Marshall was visibly in pain from the injury. Mr. Marshall was unable to work the remainder of that day and never again participated in heavy labor. He did continue to work in a limited capacity.
The Town contended that the trial court erred in allowing lay testimony to overcome the medical testimony of Mr. Marshall’s physicians in finding he suffered a work-related injury and disability, in light of this history of back issues. Furthermore, the Town alleged that since Mr. Marshall did not originally provide a history to doctors citing the accident as the cause of his injury, there were doubts regarding his claim and disputes regarding whether the accident actually occurred.
The court stated that in a workers’ compensation proceeding, the claimant must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that an employment accident resulted in their disability. The evidence, taken as a whole, needs to show that the fact being proved is more probable than not. A worker may provide testimony alone, unless other evidence casts serious doubt on their version of the incident, or the testimony is not corroborated by the circumstances after the incident. The main requirement is that an event produce a sudden injury and not manifest a gradual deterioration.
If a work-related injury aggravates or combines with a pre-existing condition to create a disability, the employee may qualify for compensation. An employee must prove that before the accident he had not suffered disabling symptoms, but after the accident the symptoms appeared and continued to exist. Additionally, there must be evidence of a causal connection between the accident and the activation of the disabling condition.
The rule regarding testimony considered by a workers’ compensation judge is that both lay and medical evidence is considered, and neither is given more weight than the other. In this case, lay testimony by Mr. Marshall and his crew members included descriptions of the pain Mr. Marshall felt, which was different from past pain. One crew member stated that Mr. Marshall pulled the rod out of the ground and immediately grabbed his back, holding it.
Medical evidence did not discredit or cast serious doubt on Mr. Marshall’s version of the accident, and the medical professionals differed in their opinions about the aggravation of Mr. Marshall’s condition following the accident.
The appellate court stated there is no rule preventing a judge from making independent credibility evaluations, considering all of the evidence in the record. Courts have rejected the rule that lay testimony is considered only in the case of a conflict of medical opinions. Here, there was a difference of opinion between medical professionals, and it was not wrong for the Workers’ Compensation Judge to consider all the evidence when making his decision. It was not unreasonable for the court to find that Mr. Marshall’s back pain was worsened by injuries caused by his work-related accident.
The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the Office of Workers’ Compensation in favor of Mr. Marshall.
At Lavis Law, our Louisiana workers’ compensation attorneys provide guidance and information to injured workers seeking compensation and benefits. We provide a free consultation, and our office can be reached by calling 866.558.9151.
More Blog Posts:
Louisiana Court Holds Occupational Disease Contracted Two Months After Employment Not Compensable, Louisiana Job Injury Blog, December 23, 2015
Louisiana Court Holds Injections Deemed Medically Necessary Under Medical Guidelines, Louisiana Job Injury Blog, October 7, 2015