Workers’ Compensation Lawsuits and the Battle for Evidence

pelicans_australian_pelican_pelican-1024x1024Unfortunately, heart attacks are one of the most common causes of death. If a loved one suffers a heart attack while on the job and you file a workers’ compensation claim, you must provide evidence to support your claim. But what happens if the employer files a motion for summary judgment before you can complete discovery? 

Michael Mack Sr. worked as a prep cook at the restaurant Blind Pelican. While working a shift, he went into the restaurant’s bathroom, where he tragically suffered a heart attack. He was transported to Touro Hospital via ambulance and died later that night. 

After Mack’s death, his wife, Denisa Allen, filed Form 1008, a disputed claim for compensation under La. R.S. 23:1231, on behalf of her minor child. She described the accident as a heart attack while he was on the job and provided medical data from the New Orleans coroner. 

Blue Pelican responded, arguing that Allen did not have the procedural capacity to sue on the minor child’s behalf. Blue Pelican also filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that Allen could not provide sufficient evidence that Mack’s death was an injury arising out of and during his employment, as required under La. R.S. 23:1021. The Office of Workers’ Compensation found in favor of Blue Pelican and dismissed Allen’s claim. Allen appealed, claiming the Office of Workers’ Compensation erred in granting Blind Pelican’s summary judgment motion.

The appellate court reviews the lower court’s decision to grant a summary judgment motion de novo, using the same criteria the lower court used. Here, the court had to determine whether summary judgment was appropriate because there were no genuine issues of material fact and whether Allen had adequate time for discovery before granting Blue Pelican’s summary judgment motion. See La. C.C.P. art. 966. This can include being allowed to take relevant depositions to defend themselves against the opposing parties’ summary judgment motion. While a party is entitled to adequate discovery, a party does not have an absolute right to complete discovery prior to the court ruling on a summary judgment motion. 

In reviewing the appeal, the appellate court explained how Allen had filed an opposition, arguing Blue Pelican had not answered any discovery during the prior year. She explained this had made it impossible to identify individuals working with Mack at his death who could provide relevant evidence. Allen and her attorneys had requested a thirty-day continuance to complete discovery, which the Office of Workers’ Compensation denied. 

Further, although Blue Pelican had argued Allen lacked procedural capacity to bring a claim on behalf of her minor son, the appellate court found that issue was not properly before the Office of Workers’ Compensation because it had not been included in Blue Pelican’s summary judgment motion. Therefore, the appellate court found the Office of Workers’ Compensation abused its discretion by granting Blind Pelican’s summary judgment motion and denying Allen’s request for a thirty-day continuance to complete discovery. Therefore the ruling was overruled, and the case continued. 

Losing a loved one to a heart attack while they were on the job can be a devastating experience. Navigating the workers’ compensation system and seeking the compensation you deserve is a challenging task. The case of Denisa Allen serves as a reminder of the importance of gathering substantial evidence to support your claim. 

A skilled attorney can provide invaluable guidance during this challenging time, advising you on the compensation you may be entitled to and helping you navigate the intricacies of the workers’ compensation process. Remember, when faced with the heart-wrenching loss of a loved one, seeking legal support can make a significant difference in your pursuit of justice.

Additional Sources: Denis Allen (Michael Mack, Sr.) v. Blind Pelican

Written By a Berniard Law Firm Writer

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