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Reeder v. Hardtner Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 2, 2018

BETTY REEDER
v.
HARDTNER MEDICAL CENTER

          APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, DISTRICT 1-E PARISH OF OUACHITA, NO. 13-02318 BRENZA I. JONES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION JUDGE

          Paul H. Benoist Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant: Betty Reeder

          Walter S. Salley J. Martin Lattier Lunn, Irion, Salley, Carlisle & Gardner Counsel for Defendants/Appellees: Hardtner Medical Center HSLI

          Court composed of Shannon J. Gremillion, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Kent D. Savoie, Judges.

          PHYLLIS M. KEATY, JUDGE.

         In this workers' compensation case, the employee appeals a judgment rendered by the workers' compensation judge (WCJ) finding that she forfeited her right to receive workers' compensation benefits by deliberately making false statements in order to obtain such benefits. For the following reasons, we affirm the WCJ's decision.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 12, 2013, while in the course and scope of her employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) employed by Hardtner Medical Center (Hardtner), Betty Reeder (Reeder) injured herself when she tripped and fell on a wheelchair. Indemnity and medical benefits were paid by the Louisiana Hospital Association Workers' Compensation Interlocal Risk Management Agency through its agent, HSLI, from January 15, 2013 through August 8, 2014, at a weekly rate of $308.30, based upon an average weekly wage of $462.45. The total temporary disability benefits paid to Reeder equate to $23, 959.36. HSLI also paid Reeder's medical bills pursuant to the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act's (LWCA's) reimbursement rate for dates of medical services rendered from January 16, 2013 through August 5, 2014. La.R.S. 23:1020.1-1415. The total medical benefits paid by HSLI equate to $64, 780.05. HSLI subsequently terminated Reeder's indemnity and medical benefits on August 8, 2014, alleging that she made misrepresentations concerning benefit payments in violation of La.R.S. 23:1208.

         The matter proceeded to trial on December 2, 2016, wherein Hardtner moved for a directed verdict following completion of the presentation of the evidence by Reeder. The WCJ took Hardtner's motion under advisement, and Reeder thereafter put on four rebuttal witnesses. Following trial, Reeder filed a memorandum in opposition to the oral motion for directed verdict as being improper in a non-jury context. Hardtner responded by filing a written motion for involuntary dismissal. The WCJ issued its oral reasons for judgment and written judgment on January 17, 2017, and March 13, 2017, respectively, and found that Reeder forfeited her right to receive workers' compensation benefits by violating La.R.S. 23:1208. As a result, the WCJ denied Reeder's request for workers' compensation benefits and dismissed the matter with prejudice. From that decision, Reeder appeals.

         On appeal, Reeder asserts the following assignments of error:

1. The trial court committed manifest legal error by granting an involuntary dismissal pursuant to La. Code Civ. P. art. 1672.B without evaluating all evidence presented by Claimant to determine whether Claimant proved her case by a preponderance of the evidence, or failed to carry her burden of proof.
2. The trial court committed manifest error of fact by finding that Claimant met each of the requirements of Resweber v. Haroil Constr. Co., 94-2708 (La. 9/5/95), 660 So.2d 7. There is no evidence of willfulness in Claimant's statements by which she seeks to obtain workers' compensation benefits. The leap made by Hardtner and the trial court is unsupported if all of the evidence is considered, and even if incorrect statements were made by Claimant, they are unrelated to the work injury sustained on January 12, 2013 and are inconsequential.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The standard of review applicable in workers' compensation cases was discussed by this court in Foster v. Rabalais Masonry, Inc., 01-1394, p. 2 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/6/02), 811 So.2d 1160, 1162, writ denied, 02-1164 (La. 6/14/02), 818 So.2d 784 (citations omitted), as follows: "Factual findings in workers' compensation cases are subject to the manifest error or clearly wrong standard of appellate review. In applying the manifest error standard, the appellate court must determine not whether the trier of fact was right or wrong, but whether the factfinder's conclusion was a reasonable one." "The determination of coverage is a subjective one in that each case must be decided from all of its particular facts." Jackson v. Am. Ins. Co., 404 So.2d 218, 220 (La.1981). Thus, "great deference is accorded to the [workers' compensation judge's] factual findings and reasonable evaluations of credibility." Garner v. Sheats & Frazier, 95-39, p. 7 (La.App. 3 Cir. 7/5/95), 663 So.2d 57, 61. "Where there is conflict in the testimony, reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review, even though the appellate court may feel that its own evaluations and inferences are as reasonable." Vidrine v. La-Tex Rubber & Specialties, Inc., 07-157, p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/30/07), 958 So.2d 146, 149.

         DISCUSSION

         I. First Assignment of Error

         In her first assignment of error, Reeder contends the WCJ committed manifest legal error by granting an involuntary dismissal pursuant to La.Code Civ.P. art. 1672(B) without evaluating all of the evidence presented by her to determine whether she proved her ...


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