Sometimes the cause of a workplace injury is clear: a fall from a height or a faulty electrical outlet, for instance. Other times, however, a workplace injury can result in more questions than answers. Such was the case in the recent Reviewing Board decision of John C. Barry’s Case. For the employee, answering all possible questions was not necessary in order to recover workers’ compensation benefits. Instead, the hearing judge was permitted to make reasonable inferences in finding that the employee was entitled to benefits.
Facts of John C. Barry’s Case
The employee was a senior shuttle driver for the City of Boston. In June 2012, Mr. Barry’s shuttle was struck by another vehicle. This caused Mr. Barry to lose control of his vehicle and strike a tree. Mr. Barry was treated for pain in his neck, back and leg. For a time, the city paid Mr. Barry workers’ compensation benefits; however, when Mr. Barry’s initial benefits ran out and he applied for additional benefits, the city requested a hearing.
At the hearing, the only medical evidence was that of the impartial medical examiner. The examiner diagnosed the employee as suffering from cervical and lumbar sprains/strains as a result of his work injury. Although the medical examiner believed strains and sprains usually heal within a matter of weeks, the examiner did not know why Mr. Barry’s sprains and strains had not healed. The examiner concluded that Mr. Barry was temporarily totally disabled. The city, however, argued that Mr. Barry had failed to show that the sprains and strains – and his continuing disability – were due to his workplace injury.
Decision in Barry’s Case
The Reviewing Board began by noting that an employee does not need to prove his or her claim by direct evidence but can rely on “reasonable inferences.” That is, if a reasonable inference can be made that supports the worker’s claims, and the hearing judge accepts these inferences, the employee can recover benefits. In this case, the Reviewing Board found that the medical examiner believed the strains and sprains contributed toward Mr. Barry’s disability. The Reviewing Board further found that, in awarding benefits to Mr. Barry, the hearing judge inferred that the unhealed strains and sprains caused by the work injury were a cause of Mr. Barry’s continuing disability, even if the examiner was not sure why Mr. Barry’s initial sprains and strains were not healing.
Impact of Barry’s Case
Barry’s Case encourages injured workers to take an expansive view of the evidence that can be used to support their claims. Injured workers should work with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to carefully evaluate all evidence that is available to support a claim for benefits. This includes not only direct evidence – medical reports, witness statements, medical evaluations, etc. – but also reasonable inferences and deductions from that evidence.
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