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Judges reverse dismissal of workers' compensation claim

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a workers’ compensation claim, finding the worker’s deposition testimony didn’t support the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board’s finding that he admitted his condition stemmed from a single incident.

In Darryl Harris v. United Water Services, Inc., No. 93A02-1010-EX-1164, Darryl Harris and his former employer differ on whether his medical issues stemmed from a specific incident while he worked for waste water treatment plant United Water Services Inc.

Harris was working in December 2005 when waste water splashed him in the face and he may have ingested some. That led to immediate mouth pain and it was determined he had a dental cavity and sebaceous cyst on his chin. He later began having acid reflux issues and eventually developed an ulcer and gastric cancer.

In May 2008, Harris pursued a workers’ compensation claim and an occupational disease claim. United Water filed a motion to dismiss because it believed that all of Harris’ medical conditions stemmed from the December 2005 incident and because he didn’t file his claim until more than two years later, the statute of limitations had run. Harris claimed his medical condition is an occupational disease and his condition is a repetitive injury.

The single hearing member granted the motion to dismiss and the full board affirmed. The full board found Harris admitted the injury occurred in December so the statute of limitations had expired for him to file a workers’ compensation claim. It also held he suffered an injury and not an occupational disease and his claim was untimely.

After determining the more deferential standard of review should apply, the judges reversed the full board’s decision. The board’s analysis stemmed from its finding that Harris admitted that the injury occurred in December and that the applicable statute of limitations in the context of a workers’ compensation claim had expired, but that wasn’t a reasonable characterization of his deposition testimony, wrote Judge Terry Crone.

“Harris merely speculated that the December 15, 2005, incident was the starting point or a major factor in his illness; however, he by no means conceded that his condition was caused solely by that single exposure,” he wrote.

It also appeared the board confused the issues and applied the wrong burden of proof. It seemed the board expected Harris to come forward with proof of causation in order to survive the motion to dismiss. But Harris only has the burden of proof on the elements of his claim and it is United Water that has to prove the alleged grounds for dismissal, wrote the judge.

The Court of Appeals remanded for the board to reconsider the motion to dismiss applying the correct burden of proof.

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