In Moran v. Rouse’s Enterprises, LLC, 19-2392019(La. App.5 Cir. 12/26/19)- – – So. 3d – – -, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit held that there is a forfeiture of all benefits when a worker’s compensation claimant commits fraud, regardless of when the fraudulent conduct occurs. The court declined to follow opinions from the First and Third Circuits concluding otherwise.
In Moran, the claimant obtained treatment for injuries to her back, right knee, and right shoulder after a slip and fall at work for Rouses supermarket. In her deposition, the claimant Moran testified that she experienced knee pain only once before her fall; it was “years ago” and not “serious.” Moran also claimed that she experienced no prior shoulder or back pain. However, medical records established:
• Complaints of knee pain on at least 8 separate occasions between 2012 and the job injury;
• Complaints of right knee, right wrist, and back pain after a slip and fall in 2013; and
• A right shoulder impingement diagnosis 2 months before the on-the-job accident.
Rouses and its workers compensation carrier affirmatively alleged a violation of La. R.S. 23:1208, Louisiana’s workers compensation fraud statute, following the claimant’s deposition. Paragraphs “A” and “E” of section 1208 provide in pertinent part:
A. It shall be unlawful for any person… to willfully make a false statement or representation… for the purpose of obtaining or defeating any benefit or payment under…this Chapter.
E. Any employee violating this Section shall… forfeit any right to compensation benefits under this Chapter.
As part of their fraud defense, the defendants specifically denied responsibility for all worker’s compensation benefits, i.e. benefits that that might have otherwise been due both before and after the fraudulent deposition testimony.
Following trial, the workers compensation judge determined that Moran carried her burden of proving the occurrence of on-the-job injury and disability. Nevertheless, the trial court also ruled that the claimant made false statements for the purpose of obtaining workers compensation benefits in violation of section 1208, thereby forfeiting the right to both the pre and post-deposition benefits that she was claiming.
On appeal, Moran argued that the forfeiture requirement of section 1208 applies prospectively only. Moran cited opinions from the Louisiana First and Third Circuits. After addressing the statute and the case law, the Moran court affirmed the decision of the workers compensation judge finding that the forfeiture of benefits provided for in of Section 1208 is clear and unambiguous. The opinion states that “…if the legislature had intended to limit the application … it would have clearly expressed that in the statute.”
There are no Louisiana Supreme Court opinions which specifically address whether the Section 1208 forfeiture applies retroactively or prospectively only. Given the defined split in the Louisiana appellate courts, the issue is ripe for consideration by the state’s highest court.
Ed is a Keogh Cox partner who litigates Worker’s Compensation, automobile and premises liability as well as subrogation claims. He is an avid runner and enjoys traveling with his wife Jennifer and their three children.