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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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