Conflicting testimony of back injury undermines worker's credibility
Case name: Alphin v. State of Wyoming, ex rel. Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, No. S-09-0085 (Wyo. 04/01/10).
The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the denial of benefits to a construction worker for a back condition. The hearing examiner's determination that the worker's back problems were neither caused nor aggravated by the 2005 workplace accident was amply supported by the evidence.
What it means: Workers' compensation hearing examiners are allowed considerable discretion in weighing and deciding the credibility of witnesses. Where a worker gives contradictory testimony regarding prior injuries and the testimony of his physician is vague and incomplete, an examiner's decision to discount that evidence is not arbitrary or capricious.
Summary: A construction worker was struck in the hip and pelvic area by a backhoe, which then pinned him against a trailer. He sought workers' compensation benefits, claiming that the work accident was responsible for his current back condition. A hearing examiner denied the claim, finding that the testimony of the worker and his physician lacked credibility. The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the denial of the claim, rejecting the worker's contention that the hearing examiner's decision was arbitrary and capricious. It explained that the "arbitrary and capricious standard will apply if the hearing examiner refused to admit testimony or documentary exhibits that were clearly admissible or failed to provide appropriate findings of fact or conclusions of law."
The worker testified that he sought medical treatment for back pain six months before the workplace accident. His medical records indicated that he told the doctor that his back problems originated with a fall from a roof four years earlier. At his hearing, however, the worker denied falling from a roof or having a preexisting back injury. He offered the testimony of one doctor, which suggested that his current ailments resulted from the backhoe accident.
The court pointed out the various inconsistencies in the worker's testimony concerning the origin of his back condition. It also stated that given the presence of medical expert testimony both favoring and opposing the worker's theory of his injuries, the hearing examiner was entitled to find one doctor's testimony more credible than the other's. The responses given by the worker's doctor to key questions were incomplete and "excessively terse," including sometimes offering no explanation.
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May 20, 2010
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