School board's unreasonable conduct warrants imposition of penalties, fees
Case name: Broussard v. Lafayette Parish School Board, No. 08-666 (La. Ct. App. 12/10/08).
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the employer school board was required to pay penalties and attorney's fees to an injured worker because it prematurely stopped paying workers' compensation benefits. The court rejected the employer's contention that it was a "public board," as defined by state statute, which would have precluded the assessment of penalties and fees against it.
What it means: With the exception of state public boards, commissions or agencies, employers in Louisiana are subject to interest, penalties and attorney's fee awards for unilaterally discontinuing an eligible employee's workers' compensation benefits. A parish school board is not exempt from paying these penalties.
Summary: The claimant was injured in 1998 and obtained a judgment in 2003, which retroactively increased her workers' compensation benefits. The employer failed to increase her compensation and stopped paying all benefits in May 2004. In an earlier decision, the Court of Appeal held that the employer acted arbitrarily and capriciously by terminating the payments. The employer challenged the assessment of penalties and attorney's fees. It argued that its members were elected and compensated with public funds, making it a "public board" under Louisiana law. As such, it was not subject to penalties and fees for failing to pay its obligations within 30 days of their due date.
The court sided with the claimant, noting that Louisiana courts have imposed penalties and attorney's fees on parish school boards for "at least 30 years." It ordered the board to pay $3,000 in penalties and $7,500 in attorney's fees, plus interest. It noted that the board's attempt to bolster its argument by claiming it was a public board relied on "something outside of the workers' compensation regime to bring new meaning to the words used in the workers' compensation statute."
February 2, 2009
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