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Raney v. Top Deck, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 13, 2019

BYRLE RANEY
v.
TOP DECK, INC., ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION - # 3 PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 17-03561 DIANNE MARIE MAYO, WORKERS COMPENSATION JUDGE

          Patrick A. Johnson Allen & Gooch COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS: Argonaut Insurance Company Top Deck, Inc.

          Dustin B. Gibson Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Byrle Raney

          Court composed of D. Kent Savoie, Candyce G. Perret, and Jonathan W. Perry, Judges.

          D. KENT SAVOIE JUDGE

         Defendants Top Deck, Inc. and Argonaut Insurance Company appeal the judgment of the trial court, finding in favor of Plaintiff Byrle Raney. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Byrle Raney filed a Disputed Claim for Compensation on June 12, 2017. He claimed that, on or about February 8, 2017, while he was working at the Packing Corporation of America facility in DeRidder, Louisiana, he was injured as a result of a major explosion on the job site. Raney alleged that he was pushed form a seated position into iron scaffolding, injuring his right shoulder. Following a subsequent explosion, he fell backwards into the grating and onto the floor, sustaining further injuries. Raney requested unpaid wages, reimbursement for medical treatment, and claimed Top Deck, Inc.'s actions were arbitrary and capricious. Defendants filed an Answer wherein it was admitted that Raney was their employee on the date of the accident, however, it was denied that Raney was in the course and scope of his employment.

         After a trial on the merits, the trial court found that Raney satisfied his burden of proof that a workplace accident occurred and found that his injuries were causally related to said accident. The trial court awarded $618.36 per week to Raney, including back-pay of $45, 140.28 from February 8, 2017, through trial. The trial court further found that Defendants failed to reasonably controvert Raney's claim and ordered them to pay $2, 000 for failure to pay indemnity benefits, $2, 000 for failure to pay medical benefits, and assessed Defendants with $12, 000 in attorney's fees for the arbitrary and capricious denial of Raney's workers' compensation benefits. Defendants now appeal.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

1. The Trial Court committed manifest error in denying [D]efendants' defense of fraud under LSA-R.S. 23:1208 based upon RANEY'S intentional misrepresentation of his medical history and substance abuse in an effort to obtain disability determinations and medical benefits to which he was not entitled.
2. The Trial Court committed manifest error in ruling that [RANEY] has satisfied his burden of proof as to the occurrence of the accident.
3. The Trial Court committed legal and manifest error in ruling RANEY'S medical complaints were causally related to his alleged accident over the concerns of the various physicians.
4. The Trial Court committed manifest error in awarding RANEY indemnity benefits, when the evidence does not support that he suffered an accident or any injury.
5. The Trial Court committed manifest error in assessing penalties and attorneys' fees against the [D]efendants.

         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 [Workers' Compensation Judge] 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. Assignment of Error Number One

         Defendants first argue that the trial court committed manifest error by denying their defense of fraud under La.R.S. 23:1208, which states, in pertinent part:

A. It shall be unlawful for any person, for the purpose of obtaining or defeating any benefit or payment under the provisions of this Chapter, either for himself or for any other person, to ...

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