ILNews

Amendment trumps high court ruling

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Addressing the issue for the first time since the legislature amended the state's Workers' Compensation Act in 2006, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today the amendment overrules an earlier Indiana Supreme Court decision that placed the burden of proof on employers in cases involving "neutral risk" incidents.

The Indiana Supreme Court adopted the "positional risk doctrine" in its ruling in Milledge v. The Oaks, 784 N.E.2d 926 (Ind. 2003), which shifted the burden of proof from employees to employers when the employee has shown his or her injury occurred in the course of employment and was the result of neutral risk - risks neither distinctly employment nor distinctly personal in character. The 2006 amendment to Indiana Code Section 22-3-2-2(a) places the burden of proof on employees throughout workers' compensation proceedings.

In Bridget Pavese v. Cleaning Solutions, No. 93A02-0803-EX-284, Bridget Pavese challenged the 2006 amendment as unconstitutional as applied to her because it places on her the burden of proving that her injury while employed with Cleaning Solutions wasn't the result of a personal health condition.

Pavese was found unconscious on the floor by co-workers and had suffered a head injury. Doctors were unable to determine whether a medical condition caused Pavese to lose consciousness or if she slipped and fell, and Pavese was unable to remember how she fell.

The full Workers' Compensation Board affirmed the single hearing member's decision to deny Pavese benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act for her medical care.

The 2006 amendment is constitutional as it was the legislature's right to clarify it is employees who maintain the burden of proof throughout workers' compensation proceedings, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. The amendment also effectively overrules Milledge's 2003 positional risk doctrine. Nothing in the Supreme Court's ruling indicates the doctrine was constitutionally mandated, wrote the judge.

Pavese failed to meet her burden of proof that her injury arose out of her employment and not because of a personal event, ruled the appellate court. Pavese presented the hearing member with two possibilities for her injury - a medical condition caused her to blackout and fall to the floor or that she slipped on the floor.

"Although we sympathize with the position Pavese is in, the legislature has made a policy decision to keep the burden of proof on employees," wrote Judge Vaidik.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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