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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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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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