School custodian's early departure for vacation undermines injury claim
Case name: Hernandez v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, Tucson Unified School District, et al., No. 2 CA-IC 2007-0010 (Ariz. Ct. App. 11/07/08, unpublished).
Ruling: The Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that a school custodian was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The custodian failed to show that his back injury was sustained during the course of his employment.
A school custodian told a teacher, another custodian, and the school's office manager that he injured his back while moving a basketball hoop. After receiving medical attention and a doctor's note saying he could not work, the custodian and a friend left that afternoon on vacation. They went on a bow-hunting trip that was previously scheduled to begin the following day. The principal previously denied the custodian's request to leave for vacation on the day of his alleged injury because it was an early dismissal day and the principal anticipated that the custodian's services would be needed.
The court upheld the administrative law judge's denial of benefits, noting that the ALJ did not find the custodian's version of events credible and rejected the evidence the custodian presented in support of his claim.
None of the custodian's witnesses fully corroborated his testimony about how the injury occurred or that the injury was in fact work-related. A teacher recalled the custodian mentioning shoulder pain but could not remember which shoulder was affected or when the discussion took place. In addition, the custodian's medical expert testified that loading things and reaching into a truck, as the custodian had done the night before the alleged accident, could have caused the injury.
The court also found the timing of the injury suspicious because it coincided with the custodian's departure for vacation after he had been told he could not leave work early.
January 19, 2009
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