Worker’s Comp Case Involving Level of Disability and Compensation Shows Degrees of Relief

Under Louisiana Law, there are four types of workers’ compensation: Permanent partial disability benefits, permanent total disability benefits, temporary total disability benefits, and supplemental earnings benefits. Permanent partial disability allows you to collect benefits for serious or disfiguring injuries, even if you do not miss any significant work time. The time frame is limited, however. Permanent total disability benefits occur when you have been injured in such a way as to render it impossible to work in the future in any capacity. Temporary total disability benefits allows you to collect benefits as if you were permanently disabled for only a certain amount of time.

Lastly, supplemental earnings benefits occur when you have been seriously injured, but you can still work in some capacity, even if you cannot continue the job where you were previously employed. Supplemental earnings benefits require that you cannot do at least 90% of your previous job. In order to qualify for supplemental earnings benefits, the employer must not be able to offer the employee light-duty work. For example, if you work in a construction site and you are injured, then your employee may offer you a desk job while you are recovering. If, however, all the desk jobs are full, then the employee will likely have to pay supplemental earnings benefits to the injured employee.

Like any workers’ compensation claim, your injury has to arise out of the work context. You need proof of the injury to make a claim, so be sure to report injuries right away and see a doctor if necessary. The legal standard in workers’ compensation claims is a preponderance of the evidence, which is a slightly higher standard, so good records are important. However, the court can occasionally take your testimony alone as evidence of the injury.

In a recent case, the court considered whether testimony, which was only slightly supported by medical records and other evidence, could establish a claim for workers’ compensation. The claimant, a truck driver, injured himself while trying to unstick a broken clutch. He suffered permanent injury to his leg as a result, but only occasionally went to the doctor, the doctor’s records were unclear, and the injury was not directly reported to the employer. The lower court determined that his testimony and the patchwork record was enough to award supplemental earnings benefits.

The State of Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit explained that testimony alone could be sufficient to establish that an accident occurred if none of the other evidence discredits the witness or casts serious doubt on the testimony and the worker’s testimony is corroborated by the circumstances following the injury. For example, the lower court can consider late reports to the employer, supervisor or coworker testimony, family and friends’ testimony, medical evidence, whether the injured person continued to work, and any prior injuries. Generally, the court allows the claimant to assume that the work accident caused the related injury if they were in good health before the accident, but were not in good health after the accident.

In the truck driver’s case, the only directly contradicting evidence came from the doctor’s report, which stated the injury actually occurred three years prior to work injury. Statements from family, friends, and co-workers all matched the injured employee’s claims. His supervisor commented that his work quality declined, which was also consistent with the injury. In addition, the employee went to the doctor again later, and the medical records indicated the same type of injury that he acquired while at work during the same time period of the injury. He had no previous record of a similar injury or previous condition. Lastly, the injured worker also attempted to work in a similar field, but due to pain in his leg, could not drive well and had to quit.

As a result, the court determined that the employee was entitled to supplemental earnings benefits because he could not perform 90% of his pre-injury job, and the employer did not find a light work position for him. However, in this case, there was significant time between the injury and the claim for benefits. During part of that time, the injured employee received unemployment benefits. The court points out that you cannot receive both supplemental earnings benefits and unemployment benefits. Therefore, the employee only received supplemental earnings benefits for the weeks that he did not also receive unemployment benefits.

There are many legal options if you are injured at work. However, it is much easier to file a claim if you keep complete records of the incident.