While Injured Worker Claims Late Payment, Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeals Focuses on Important Date

purse_money_credit_squeeze-1024x683For purposes of seeking an appeal, there is great importance in preserving the record, which may be done through admitting evidence at trial to support relevant claims. When the record has not been established at trial, it is difficult for the best attorneys to succeed on appeal. William Taylor (Mr. Taylor), the plaintiff in his case brought against Hanson North America (Hanson), ran into this evidentiary legal hurdle when he appealed the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) decision denying his motion to Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal.

 Twenty years before the First Circuit Court issued its 2015 opinion affirming the OWC decision, Mr. Taylor was injured in a work-related accident. His injuries left him permanently and totally disabled. Afterward, the OWC determined that Mr. Taylor was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. 

Years later, Mr. Taylor’s physicians recommended that he undergo a myelogram, CT scan, and physical therapy. However, Hanson, the successor in interest of his former employer, refused to authorize these treatments. In turn, Mr. Taylor filed a disputed claim with the OWC against Hanson, seeking penalties and attorney fees for Hanson’s failure to approve these treatments and for failure to timely pay his medical expenses and prescriptions. 

Although the OWC dismissed Mr. Taylor’s claims related to the treatments, Mr. Taylor’s claims related to Hanson’s failure to pay his medical expenses and prescriptions timely remained an open dispute. So, in November 2014, Mr. Taylor’s and Hanson’s attorneys entered negotiations to settle these outstanding claims.

 The negotiations began on November 10, with email exchanges between the attorneys for Hanson and Mr. Taylor discussing what Hanson would pay for the outstanding medical expenses and prescriptions owed to Mr. Taylor. By November 19, the attorneys concluded the negotiations with Hanson’s attorney emailing an attached, signed consent judgment and Mr. Taylor’s attorney replying with the statement: “Please mail original, and I will file.” On December 1, a judge for the OWC signed the consent judgment agreed upon by Hanson and Mr. Taylor, which ordered Hanson to pay a $7,000 penalty, another $7,000 for Mr. Taylor’s attorney fees, and an outstanding invoice to his pharmacy. The OWC sent a mailed notice of the consent judgment on December 3.

 Hanson incrementally made the respective payments to Mr. Taylor, with $7,000 sent on December 26, $1,639.64 sent on December 29, and the final $7,000 sent on December 30. However, Mr. Taylor considered each of these payments late since he and Hanson had an enforceable agreement as of the November 19 signed consent judgment, so the payments were due within 30 days of the November 19 date. As a result, Mr. Taylor brought another motion before the OWC seeking additional penalties against Hanson under LSA-R.S. 23:1201(G). This time, the OWC judge denied Mr. Taylor’s claim, finding that Hanson’s payment was timely because the 30 days that Hanson had to make the settlement payment began to run on December 3, the date the OWC mailed the notice of the consent judgment. Dissatisfied with this outcome, Mr. Taylor appealed to the First Circuit Court.

On appeal, the First Circuit Court affirmed the OWC decision denying Mr. Taylor’s motion for additional penalties based on his late payment arguments. In reaching this conclusion, the First Circuit Court emphasized that the document the attorneys referenced in their email exchanges did not appear in the record. Specifically, the appellate judge wrote, “Although it could be argued that the consent judgment referenced by the attorneys is the one the owe ultimately signed on December 1, 2014, the evidence in the record does not prove such.” 

Therefore, since the record did not reflect Mr. Taylor’s claims, the First Circuit Court concluded that he failed to prove the settlement terms signed on November 19. Furthermore, the First Circuit Court noted the only available proof that they could rely on was the settlement that appeared on the record with the OWC on December 1, the date the OWC judge signed the consent judgment, so Hanson’s final payment to Mr. Taylor on December 30 fell within the 30 days. Therefore, the First Circuit Court held that Mr. Taylor also failed to prove Hanson was liable for penalties for failing to make the settlement payments within 30 days of that date under LSA-R.S.23:1201(G).

 The outcome of Mr. Taylor’s dispute is a reminder for attorneys and parties that bear the burden of proof on such claims of the importance of preserving the record and establishing a reliable record at the outset of any legal case. Failure to do so could also mean a failure for those claims.


 Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Gina McKlveen

 Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on Workers Compensation: Office of Workers’ Compensation Exceeded Authority By Shortening Prescription Period

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