Articles Posted in Workers Compensation

backlit-crime-dark-143580-1024x683When injuries happen at work, it is often challenging to determine who is liable for damages. The question of liability is especially tricky when prison inmates are injured in work release programs. Courts must grapple not only with the employer’s potential liability, but also with the potential liability of the supervising correctional authority. The Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit faced this issue in a lawsuit brought by an inmate injured on work release in Chopin.

Edward Perkins suffered serious injuries while participating in a work release program at the MARTCO plywood facility in Chopin, Louisiana. At MARTCO, Perkins’ supervisor asked him to clean around the drop chute, which required him to get on his knees. When he got back up, Perkins slipped and attempted to brace himself by grabbing a nearby cage, which then fell on him, trapping his head under a lift.

At the time of his injury, Perkins was an inmate under the supervision of the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) and living at the Rapides Parish Work Release Center. Perkins was transported to his job at MARTCO by the DOC, but while at work he was supervised only by his boss at MARTCO, not by the DOC. After he was injured, Perkins sued the DOC, the Sheriff overseeing the work release program, and MARTCO for negligence in Rapides Parish District Court. He also filed a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, seeking pauper status so he could avoid paying the costs of the suit. The Court determined that Perkins’ injuries did not arise out of a condition of confinement and transferred the case to Natchitoches Parish, where the MARTCO facility was located. Neither court acted on the pauper motion.

adult-automotive-blur-13861-1024x683Many workers hope that, should they be injured on the job, financial protections are in place to ensure that they have plenty of time to recover before going back to work. The protections are often in the form of workers’ compensation payments. However, these protections will not protect an injured worker indefinitely. Should a doctor find that a worker is fit enough to return to the job, the employer has the right to fire an employee that refuses to return to work. It is important to understand when an injured worker is required to return to the job and what needs to be proven to extend the payment period.

Kerry West was involved in a car wreck while he was working for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (“S&WB”). Mr. West had worked for S&WB for approximately 25 years. After the accident, Mr. West did not return to work. This was under the advisement of his primary care physician, Dr. Waterman. Because it disagreed with Dr. Waterman’s opinion, S&WB sent Mr. West to another doctor for a second opinion, Dr. Steiner. In contrast to Dr. Waterman’s evaluation, Dr. Steiner found that Mr. West could return to work. However, this return was limited to light duty work. S&WB offered Mr. West an accommodating position of light duty work. Despite the new evaluation and the offer of light duty work, Mr. West refused to return to work in the new position. He relied on the opinion of his primary care physician, Dr. Waterman. In response to Mr. West’s refusal to go to work, S&WB held a pre-termination hearing. Mr. West was allowed to testify on his own behalf. He claimed that he was unable to return to work in any fashion. Mr. West was then fired by S&WB pursuant to Civil Service Rule IX § 1.1, as he was unwilling to return to work.

Mr. West then appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission for the City of New Orleans. The Commission performed a hearing, where both Mr. West and S&WB testified and presented evidence on Mr. West’s ability to work, and his refusal to do so. Independently, the Commission found that S&WB had found sufficient cause to terminate Mr. West. It was this decision by the Commission that Mr. West appealed to the Louisiana Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit.

26-Picture-05-22-2019-1024x687The doctrine of peremption can prevent someone from bringing legal action against someone should that action be brought after a certain amount of time. Peremption is a period of time fixed by law for the existence of a right. La.Civ.Code art. 3458. This period is defined by an applicable statute. Arthur Gibson’s case contains two instances of peremption extinguishing a party’s right to bring a claim.   

Arthur Gibson was performing manual labor in the hold of a ship in 2004. While at work, he suffered injuries to his neck and blamed the company who made the materials he was moving. This company was Louisiana Rice Mill (“LRM”). For the next ten years, he attempted to bring two civil actions against LRM for negligence and product liability. Mr. Gibson received workers compensation during this time, pursuant to the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. He was represented by Raleigh Newman, for his civil claims, and J. Lee Hoffoss, Jr., who handled his worker’s compensation claim. 

However, after a visit to a neurosurgeon in 2010, Mr. Gibson’s workers’ compensation benefits were discontinued. Mr. Gibson was never informed of the suspension of his payments. He continued to receive regular payments from Mr. Newman, his attorney, during this time to help cover his living expenses. Therefore, Mr. Gibson was unaware that his workers’ compensation benefits had been suspended. He did not discover this until 2014, when his civil actions against LRM ran dry. Mr. Gibson filed a petition for damages against his attorneys. He claimed that they had performed legal malpractice by failing to appeal the suspension of his benefits. The trial court granted the defendant attorney’s exception of peremption, as the claim was brought more than three years after the alleged injury occurred. Mr. Gibson appealed the trial court’s decision.

arizona-asphalt-blur-2199293-1024x684Sometimes accidents at work happen. But what happens when an accident could have been prevented by an employee? It is a common question to wonder whether an employer is still liable for the actions of an employee, especially in cases where a defect may be open and obvious. A Louisiana delivery driver confronted this very situation after he was injured on a loading dock.

Saia Motor Freight employee Ethan Rose was delivering to Doerle Food Services, LLC, in December 2010. Because the delivery was so large, a temporary bridge made of a metal docking plate, which extended from the truck and across the gap in the floor from the truck and the warehouse floor, was required to move it off of Rose’s truck and into Doerle Food Services’ warehouse. On December 22, the makeshift bridge did not lie flat, but instead had a bump where the flap hinged. The conditions on the bridge were also muddy and wet. As Rose tried to move a pallet of delivery goods over the bump and hinge, he fell onto the ground, injuring his neck and back.

Rose brought a lawsuit for damages from his injury against Doerle Food Services and its insurance company, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, eleven months later. In 2015, Doerle Food Services and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Rose could not prove there was an “unreasonable risk of harm” on the loading dock bridge plate because the defect was open and obvious.

70-picture-1024x683When someone is injured on the job, sorting out liability can be complex. It can be doubly so when a prisoner is temporarily released so he or she can work and is subsequently injured on a job that was approved by the prison system and the sheriff managing that prison, but completely run by a private party. In such a situation, it will take an excellent lawyer to sort out the liability issues and advise whether a lawsuit is worth bringing. So, who is liable for injuries on a work release program?

Sheriff Mike Tubbs found himself named in a lawsuit by an inmate who was injured in just such a situation. Ronnie Thomas was a prisoner in a jail in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana when he was approved for work release. His work release was assigned to the waste management department, where he worked as a “hopper” on the back of a garbage truck. He would jump off the back at each stop and grab the trash and throw it into the truck. During one of his jumps he fell and was injured. He sued several defendants, including Sheriff Tubbs, for their failure to provide a safe work environment. The trial court dismissed the case after the Sheriff filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he owed Mr. Thomas no duty to provide a safe work environment. The trial court held that Mr. Thomas was an employee of the waste management company and thus his only remedy was workers’ compensation. Mr. Thomas appealed, but the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal.

The work release program that is run by the Morehouse Parish jail requires that the prisoner fill out an application for a job that seems suitable. In this case, Mr. Thomas applied for a job with the Morehouse Parish Police Jury, who reviewed his application and determined that he could work for the waste management company, Morehouse Parish Solid Waste, which is a third-party company. He was then assigned duty as a “hopper” by the company. He was injured in the course of his employment. According to the Court of Appeal, an employee’s exclusive remedy when injured in the course of his employment is workers’ compensation. However, Mr. Thomas argued that his situation was unique because he was a prisoner and out only due to the work release program. In his view, the sheriff was also responsible because he had assigned him to work, arranged what hours he would work, and was the one who negotiated how much he would be paid. He also pointed out that he received his payment through the inmate banking system. Thus, he argued that this level of participation by the sheriff also bound the sheriff with a duty of care to provide a safe work environment. The trial court and the Court of Appeal did not agree. They pointed to substantial case precedent for the settled principle in Louisiana that when a prisoner is released through a work release program they are an employee of the private company that provides employment, and that private employer enjoys immunity provided by the workers’ compensation program. The factual situation, wherein the prisoner applies for a job and is solely supervised by the employer during the release period, also backed up this finding,

59-Email-04-02-19-picture-1024x683When you go to work each morning, the last thing you want to think about is: “What happens if I get hurt?” Unfortunately for many, workplace accidents are a real concern. The following case shows just how real, and complicated, workplace injuries can be.     

Carlos Cordon sustained multiple injuries while working one day for Parish Glass of St. Tammany (“Parish Glass”). He was at a warehouse loading mirrors into a truck when the mirrors fell on him, resulting in a broken leg, lacerations to his right arm, and aggravation of a preexisting neck injury. These injuries required multiple surgeries and resulted in permanent scarring.  After the accident, Cordon was required to take a drug test, which revealed prescription drugs and marijuana in his bloodstream. The Office of Workers’ Compensation (“OWC”) found, under La. R.S. 23:1081(13), that Cordon was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Due to the intoxication, the OWC decided that Cordon forfeited his rights to all workers compensation and medical benefits. Cordon then brought this case to court. The following case is on appeal from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration, District 6.

At the first trial, Cordon was ordered to pay LUBA Insurance Company restitution of $140,491.71 for indemnity benefits and $145,536.99 for medical payments. After Cordon appealed, the court held that he still forfeited his rights to all workers compensation and medical benefits under La. R.S. 23:1081(1)(b); however, the court also found that Parish Glass was responsible for reasonable emergency medical care until his condition stabilized. After this finding, Parish Glass and LUBA agreed to pay $43,742.91 for Cordon’s emergency medical care. As Cordon’s total medical expenses were $145,536.99, he was required to reimburse LUBA the difference of $101,794.08. Cordon agreed to and signed this stipulation.

vertebrea-1-1559257-1024x768When you are injured on the job, you expect for your medical expenses to be covered through worker’s compensation. However, when your employer denies your recommended medical treatment to recover from your injury, what do you do? First, you file a disputed claim for medical treatment form (Form 1009) with the Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration. If that claim is denied administratively, then you are entitled to a hearing before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). However, sometimes the process does not go as planned. For example, in this instance a Workers Compensation Judge ordered the defendants claim be paid but the employer appealed the WCJ’s decision.

Robert Friedman was an employee of Ecolab, Inc. when he injured his back on the job in October 2007. At first, his course of treatment was mild and done by a primary care physician, then a pain specialist. However, his symptoms persisted into 2011, when he was referred to an orthopedic surgeon. That surgeon first did a lumbar interbody fusion, which is a surgical procedure where a damaged disc is removed and replaced with bone graft material.  Symptoms persisted into 2013 when the orthopedic surgeon referred Friedman to a neurosurgeon, who ran additional tests. The neurosurgeon’s tests revealed loosened screws/hardware from the initial lumbar interbody fusion. Eventually, the neurosurgeon suggested a new lumbar interbody fusion that would both fix the initial procedure as well as provide additional support. EcoLab approved the portion that would fix the initial procedure but denied the portion that would provide additional support as they did not feel it was medically necessary. Friedman then filed a Form 1009 with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration, which was denied due to insufficient clinical information. Friedman then re-filed his Form 1009 to get a hearing before a WCJ in Ouachita Parish, who granted Friedman to get his entire prescribed procedure, as well as legal fees covered once evidence was submitted. Ecolab appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal.

Workers’ Compensation Claims are determined under guidelines in Title 40 of the Louisiana Administrative Code. At issue is whether the evidence supports that extended lumbar interbody fusion is medically necessary. Workers’ Compensation is supposed to cover the costs of medical treatment that is reasonably necessary for treating medical conditions caused by a workplace injury. See La. R.S. 23:1203. Medically necessary treatment is supposed to be that which is consistent with the diagnosis and treatment of a specific condition rather than solely based upon a patient’s preference. A claimant’s appeal of the Medical Director’s decision to a WCJ is based upon clear and convincing evidence, which means evidence has to be substantially more likely to be true than not true. 40 LA ADC Pt. I, §2715 sets the criteria about what evidence is necessary. As this procedure was a follow-up to his 2011 surgery, Friedman did not need to send inasmuch documentation.  For that reason, the Appeals Court determined that the Medical Director erred in their judgment and thus upheld the WCJ’s ruling in favor of Friedman, as well as awarded attorney fees.

46-Email-03-13-19-Image-1024x682Workers’ compensation exists to aid employees who suffer injuries while on the job. However, companies can sometimes be uncooperative after their employees become injured by dodging responsibility and avoiding making payments. Despite these difficulties, a case backed by strong evidence can help injured employees receive the compensation they deserve. How can you get the workers compensation you deserve when your employer is avoiding payment?

Patricia Wilson, a Glazer employee, had a physical job involving reaching, bending, pushing, lifting, and pulling while packaging bottles of liquor on a conveyor belt. Ms. Wilson was working on the assembly line on May 15, 2012, when she tripped on a floor mat and took a hard fall. She stopped working and sought medical care right away, where she was diagnosed with contusions to her right shoulder, gluteal back, and hip, as well as a neck strain. She was given medications and instructed to ice the area. After some intermittent time off of work and a handful of doctors visits, in late July she was discharged from her doctor’s care despite experiencing lingering pain. For the following year, Ms. Wilson experienced pain at work, specifically on her right shoulder and neck.

On Monday, July 8, 2013, Ms. Wilson was working on a shorthanded line and experienced more of a physical demand than she usually would on a Monday. Ms. Wilson experienced pain in her right shoulder and neck throughout her shift that night. The next morning Ms. Wilson’s pain was so great that she called in sick for work. The pain did not subside over a series of days, and after many fruitless attempts to speak with management to receive direction on how to proceed, Ms. Wilson was finally authorized to see her doctor three weeks later on July 31, 2013.

ice-calves-1543085-1024x770Ice storms can create hazards for the general public as well as employees. A Mansfield nurse found out that parking lot falls do not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. A Shreveport Hospital was able to avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits with the help of an excellent attorney after the employee’s fall.

Joyce Lafitte-Nesom is a nurse manager at Christus Schumpert Highland Hospital (the Hospital) in Shreveport. She typically worked an eight-hour shift from 4:00 pm until midnight. She commuted to the Hospital from her home in Mansfield, Louisiana. On February 11, 2014, the area had an ice storm and many nurses were unable to make their shifts due to the storm. The Hospital was put on diversion and stopped accepting patients due to the shortage of employees.

Ms. Nesom worked until 1:40 am instead of midnight because she was told by Hospital security that the Hospital parking lots were icy and the Hospital was low on materials to apply to the parking lot to help alleviate the slippery conditions. The roads to her home in Mansfield were also closed by the police due to the hazardous conditions. After her shift ended, Ms. Nesom made a decision to wait until the roads were better. She tried to rest in an empty room, but at 5:00 am she gave up and started performing her normal duties. She did not count this toward her working hours for the day. Another nursing house supervisor who lived closer, Ahleeka Cummings, allowed Ms. Nesom to stay at her place until conditions improved.

lab-work-1575844-1024x683Have you ever been tempted to take a sick day, just because you need a break? Have you ever called in or left early because you are feeling under the weather and you would not be able to forgive yourself if you exposed the entire office to the bug you caught? Although many employees may stretch the truth on sick days sometimes, there are occasions where it becomes irresponsible and unprofessional. One Louisiana man attempted to test the boundaries of worker compensation when he requested medical payments for his sickness. So, how can you determine if someone is faking symptoms in a workers compensation case? 

This case involves a man filing a workers compensation claim against his former employer. The employee’s name is Remco Leidelmeijen, and he was working for the company, Ferncrest Manor Nursing Home, as a licensed practical nurse. One day, while performing his work duties, he entered a patient’s bathroom to empty out a catheter bag and slipped on water that was on the floor. As a result of the slip, Leidelmeijen first fell forward, hitting his face and jaw on the sink, and then he fell backward and hit the back of his head on the floor. Immediately after the accident occurred, he declined a request to call an ambulance and instead had a family member bring him home from work. He went to the emergency room later that day and received treatment for head trauma occurring at work, according to the emergency room records. He allegedly had injuries for his head, his mouth, and his teeth. Therefore, Leidelmeijen filed suit in hopes of paying the medical bills he accrued for treatment of injuries that he claims came from the accident. Ultimately, he ended up with partial relief.

Leidelmeijen’s only dispute was for his claim of medical benefits, which is what was tried in front of Judge Robert Varnado, Workers’ Compensation Judge of District Eight. This court ultimately found that Leidelmeijen failed to prove entitlement to medical benefits. The majority of the medical expert testimony introduced into evidence found that Leidelmeijen did not have the brain injuries he claimed from the accident but is instead malingering. A malingering diagnosis means that the person might be deliberately or consciously feigning symptoms for an ulterior purpose (e.g., avoiding work, receiving money, prolonging illness with the intent to avoid responsibility and so on, and/or obtaining medications). Leidelmeijen appealed the decision, and it went before Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Edwin A. Lombard, and Judge Rosemary Ledet. They affirmed the judgment against Leidelmeijen.