The Impact of ‘Presumption’ and ‘Credibility’ on Workers’ Compensation Cases

The New York Appellate Division recently issued two decisions that highlight the issues of presumption and credibility.  One of these decisions was unfavorable to injured workers, while the other was favorable.  In the first case, the Court found the claimant’s injuries and testimony to be incredible when viewed against a surveillance video of the accident causing her alleged injuries and it disallowed her claim.  In the second case, the Court found that the claimant’s testimony was credible as to his injuries, especially when the employer’s witness testified, as the testimony of the witness supported the claimant’s account of the accident.  The Court in the second case established the case for the injuries claimed.

In the first case, the claimant alleged a number of severe injuries due to elevator doors closing on her.  Her doctor relied upon her history of the accident in finding that the impact was very severe, leading him to diagnose a variety of significant injuries.  However, there was video surveillance of the issue, showing that the accident was minor and the claimant was unfazed by it.  This caused the Court to find her claim and testimony incredible, and to disallow her claim.

In the second case, the claimant suffered injuries driving a hazardous materials truck, when he slowed down and the liquid sloshed in the holding tank.  His claim was initially disallowed by the Workers’ Compensation Law Judge, who found that the claimant’s testimony was inconsistent with vehicle computer logs, which did not register a sudden stop.  However, that finding was reversed by the Appellate Court as they found his testimony consistent with that of the employer witness, who indicated a sudden stop wouldn’t register on the computer logs if it was below a certain mile per hour.  The claimant’s testimony was found to be credible and his claim was established for the injuries sustained.

Under the Workers’ Compensation Law, there is a presumption that accidents occurring at work are compensable; however, the claimant still has the burden of showing that his/her injury was the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment to be entitled to benefits.  Whether a case meets this requirement is a factual issue for the Board to decide and any findings must be based upon substantial evidence to be upheld.  “Substantial evidence” is composed of credible testimony/reporting by the claimant, as well as credible medical evidence.  Credible medical evidence relies upon the history of accident given by the claimant to the doctor.  If the medical evidence or the claimant’s report/testimony is found incredible or unbelievable, the Board may disallow the claim.  The Board is the body that assesses the credibility of the claimant and the medical evidence before making a decision.

We encourage you to reach out to our law firm if you feel that you have suffered an injury at work or you think you may have a medical condition that is work related.

Written by Robin D’Amore, Esq.