A case was released on May 22, 2020, that is interesting for both workers and attorneys. This is a case where mistakes were made by the worker, the lawyers, and the judge even though they all tried to do a good job.
Let’s begin with the injured worker and his mistakes. He posted a picture of himself on a four-wheeler with the caption “Birthday Hunting Trip” while claiming to be permanently and totally injured. On Facebook. Dumb.
The second mistake the worker made is a little more subtle and could happen to anyone. He filled out an application for long term disability benefits and did not disclose his back problems although he was claiming those same back problems in a lawsuit. In his defense, the question was a little less than straight forward, but he still could have gotten it right and it would have been better for him.
The lawyer did an outstanding job of asking questions on the deposition of the doctor. The establishment of injury through the testimony through the doctor is a model for other lawyers to follow. The plaintiff through his attorney claimed that the back injury was a cumulative stress or repetitive motion injury which is a little unusual but probably fit the facts of this case. Oddly, the lawyer didn’t file the case under an occupational disease and there really wasn’t any medical evidence of an occupational disease. We do see degenerative disc disease as a frequent diagnosis. I don’t recall any specific cases where I have seen occupational diseases as workers comp injuries such as black lung in our particular area. I have never seen degenerative disc disease as an occupational disease.
The judge in workers' compensation cases is required to make a finding of fact, a statement of law, and a final judgment based on the facts and the law. This particular decree was questioned by the Appellate Court because there was no finding of a new injury by the judge. That court questioned whether this was an occupational disease, which really doesn’t seem to fit.
The Appellate Court reversed the trial court and remanded the case (sent it back to the judge) for further findings consistent with either a new injury or no new injury.
Buckle up, drive safely, wash your hands, and as always, your referrals are appreciated!