Teacher claims explosion at school caused injuries; evidence falls short
Case name: Chiesa v. Stillwater Central Sch. Dist., No. 504103 (N.Y. App. Div. 10/08/09).
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division affirmed a ruling from the Workers' Compensation Board that a teacher did not sustain a work-related injury due to her alleged exposure to toxic particles after an explosion at the school.
What it means:
In New York, the court will defer to the Workers' Compensation Board's determination of witness credibility, when it is supported by substantial evidence. In this case, the teacher's testimony of an explosion and toxic cloud was rebutted by the employer's witnesses. Also, neither the fire department's incident report nor any other staff member substantiated the teacher's assertions. This evidence constituted substantial support for the board's determination.
A teacher alleged she was injured by exposure to particulate matter from an explosion at an asbestos work site at her school. She said that the explosion created a toxic dust cloud that engulfed her classroom. Finding the teacher lacked credibility and did not establish a causally related injury, the workers' compensation law judge denied benefits. Upon review, the Appellate Division held that the evidence supported the denial. The court noted that the district superintendent and school principal both testified that they did not recall an explosion or a dust cloud engulfing the school. There was also no testimony from any other staff member or student substantiating the teacher's assertions regarding the severity of the incident.
Although the teacher presented evidence that the fire department responded to an alarm at the school, the department's incident report did not mention an explosion or any other problem at the school. The court further noted that the teacher testified she resigned from her position the day after the incident, in part, because of injuries she sustained in the explosion. However, her resignation letter stated that she resigned for personal reasons, and the principal testified that he requested the teacher's resignation due to poor performance.
The court also noted that the testimony of the treating doctor and specialists was significantly based on the teacher's assertion that she was exposed to a toxic cloud from an explosion. The employer's medical expert noted that the teacher suffered from preexisting respiratory ailments and did not meet any of the criteria to establish a causally related respiratory illness. The court found substantial evidence supported the decision to deny benefits.
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December 3, 2009
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