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Weaver v. Iron

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

September 18, 2019

RALPH WEAVER
v.
CHICAGO BRIDGE & IRON

          APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION - # 3 PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 17-02040 DIANNE MARIE MAYO, WORKERS' COMPENSATION JUDGE.

          John J. Rabalais, Matthew D. Crumhorn, Rabalais, Unland & Lorio, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Chicago Bridge & Iron.

          Vincent Piazza Scallan Attorney at Law, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Ralph Weaver.

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, D. Kent Savoie, and Jonathan W. Perry, Judges.

          D. KENT SAVOIE, JUDGE.

         Defendant Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI) appeals the judgment of the trial court, finding that Ralph Weaver did not commit fraud pursuant to La.R.S. 23:1208 and La.R.S. 23:1208.1; ordering Chicago Bridge & Iron to pay past and future Supplemental Earnings Benefits; and ordering Chicago Bridge & Iron to pay penalties and attorney's fees. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Ralph Weaver filed a Disputed Claim for Compensation on April 3, 2017. He claimed that while working as an employee for CBI, he slipped and fell as he was stepping down from a crane on a rainy day, injuring his right knee. The accident occurred on September 13, 2016. Ralph Weaver alleged in the filing that no wage benefits had been paid and that all benefits were terminated on March 14, 2017. He requested penalties and attorney's fees for the arbitrary denial of his workers' compensation benefits.

         CBI filed an Answer alleging that Weaver's injury was due to a pre-existing condition and not because of the workplace accident. CBI further alleged that Weaver made misrepresentations regarding previous injuries, disabilities and medical conditions. Due to these misrepresentations, CBI claims Weaver forfeited his entitlement to benefits and subjected himself to civil and criminal penalties under Section 1208.1 of the Workers' Compensation Act.

         A trial was held in this matter on April 30, 2018. It was CBI's position that Weaver failed to provide truthful answers on an LA OWCA Second Injury Board Knowledge Questionnaire, which Weaver filled out upon being hired by CBI. In answering the questionnaire, Weaver reported that he suffered a "torn maniskes" on February 11, 2011, as a result of a prior workplace accident. CBI claimed that Weaver "specifically denied ever having undergone any surgical procedures prior to being hired by [CBI]." CBI later learned, through discovery, that in 2006 and 2011, "Weaver had undergone two prior right knee surgeries for right meniscus tears."

         Weaver countered that he submitted a "Medical Examination Report Form" on the same day as the questionnaire. On this form, he reported having surgery on his leg, finger, and elbow. Weaver further argued that as part of his job with CBI, he "was required to walk hundreds of yards, and even up to a mile over unsteady terrain to reach his crain [sic]." He would then climb a ladder between eight and eleven feet high to enter the crane. Weaver contended that the evidence showed that he was able to accomplish these tasks without assistance or accommodations from CBI. In addition, he was medically cleared by CBI's own doctors to work as a crane operator without restrictions.

         Following his injury on September 13, 2016, Weaver returned to work with CBI with restrictions. In February 2017, Weaver suffered an infection in his knee following a round of injections which resulted in three missed days from work. When he returned to work on February 7, 2017, Weaver was told that CBI would no longer provide him with accommodations. Weaver submits that, at this point, he became entitled to supplemental earnings benefits. However, CBI alleged that Weaver was terminated for cause due to violation of company policies. It is Weaver's position that this was an effort by CBI to avoid paying his benefits.

         The workers' compensation judge (WCJ) found that Weaver proved his injury of February 13, 2016, and he was entitled to supplemental earnings benefits from February 7, 2017, until present. The WCJ further found that CBI was arbitrary and capricious in the handling of this claim and in the termination of Weaver's benefits. As a result, CBI was ordered to pay two thousand dollars ($2,000.00) in penalties and eight thousand dollars ($8,000) in attorney's fees.

         Thereafter, CBI filed a Motion for New Trial, which was heard on June 11, 2018. The motion was denied, and CBI filed this appeal.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

1. The Workers' Compensation Judge erred in finding Weaver was entitled to indemnity benefits from February [7], 2017, to present.
2. The Workers' Compensation Judge erred in finding Weaver did not violate La.R.S. 23:1208 Fraud Statute based on the multiple misrepresentations made throughout discovery about his pre-existing condition and treatment, as well as his disability status.
3. The Workers' Compensation Judge committed manifest error in finding Weaver did not violate La. R.S. 23:1208.1, Fraud Statute, based on the facts and evidence presented at trial.
4. The Workers' Compensation Judge erred in awarding penalties and attorney's fees for the arbitrary and capricious controversion of disputed claims for workers' compensation benefits.

         LAW AND DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         This court in Numa C. Hero & Son v. Leleux, 15-305, p. 3 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/28/15), 178 So.3d 595, 598, explained:

Factual findings of the WCJ are subject to manifest error review. Buxton v. Iowa Police Dep't, 09–520 (La.10/20/09), 23 So.3d 275. Whether the burden of proof has been satisfied and whether testimony is credible are questions of fact to be determined by the WCJ. Id. Under the manifest error rule, the reviewing court does not decide whether the factfinder was right or wrong, but only whether its findings are reasonable. Id.

         II. ...


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