A worker’s benefits may be forfeited if the employee is untruthful on a medical questionnaire (if the misrepresentations directly relate to the alleged injury) or prejudices the employer’s ability to recovery from the “Louisiana Second Injury Fund.” La. R.S. 23:1208.1 Some Louisiana courts have shown reluctance to deny workers’ compensation benefits based on the employee’s alleged failure to truthfully answer a medical history questionnaire. However, the court in Spillman v. Career Adventures, Inc., — So.3d —- 2021 (La. App. 2d Cir. 8/11/21), 2021 WL 3523959, held that benefits were forfeited because the claimant provided false responses to several medical history questions and failed to answer a number of specific questions on a post-hire medical history questionnaire provided by his employer.
At trial, it was established that Spillman had pre-incident medical conditions to include: 1) injuries related to a 2007 work-related accident; 2) regional sympathetic dystrophy of the left foot; 3) COPD; 4) chronic pain from a gunshot wound in his left leg; 5) surgery to the AC joint of his right shoulder; 6) injuries from a 2018 motor vehicle accident to the right shoulder and right knee; 7) anxiety; 8) bipolar disorder; and 9) many other ailments.
Like many other employers, Spillman’s employer Career Adventures included with its employment packet a “Office of Workers’ Compensation Second Injury Board Questionnaire.” Spillman failed to truthfully complete this questionnaire and checked “no” to specific questions which asked if he had experienced many of his known conditions such as COPD and bipolar disorder. Although Spillman took the time to respond to numerous “fill in the blank” questions, he purposefully skipped at least 10 inquiries.
Eleven months after hire, Spillman alleged he was injured at work while performing his duties as a welder. At trial, Spillman’s family physician identified a torn tendon in the left elbow as a work-related injury. He further testified that the tendon injury limited his activities and merged with his pre-existing injuries to create a greater total disability. The workers’ compensation judge (“WCJ”) ruled that Spillman violated La. 23:1208.1 by failing to truthfully answer certain questions. The Second Circuit “went further” in affirming the workers’ compensation judge, stating:
“We go further than the WCJ. All information which would have been disclosed had Mr. Spillman truthfully answered each and every question on the preemployment questionnaire must be considered …”
Therefore, the appellate court in Spillman found that both false answers and a failure to answer certain questions can qualify as a willful misrepresentation sufficient to cause a forfeiture of benefits under La. R.S. 23:1208.1 under certain circumstances.