The recent decision in Gibson v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC, 20-0033 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/27/20), 2020 WL 507804 re-affirms that a workers’ compensation claim based on an unwitnessed accident is subject to pretrial dismissal where there is no corroborating evidence.
In Gibson, the plaintiff, a department manager for Walmart, claimed injury while picking up boxes. Although no one witnessed the incident, the plaintiff claimed that two managers working nearby were made aware of the accident and injuries almost immediately.
Walmart denied the claim in response to numerous “red flags.” For example, the two managers identified by the claimant denied any knowledge. Also, the first reference in a medical record to the alleged June accident came in mid-October.
Walmart filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that plaintiff did not satisfy her evidentiary burden. In response, Gibson countered that the conflict between her testimony, the co-workers’ testimony, and the medical records created genuine issues of material fact to be decided at trial. The OWC trial court granted summary judgment and the plaintiff appealed.
In affirming the dismissal, the Fourth Circuit Court determined that Gibson’s testimony, standing alone, did not create a genuine issue of material fact. The general rule regarding unwitnessed accidents in worker’s compensation cases is well defined. Under this rule, an employee may prove by his or her testimony alone that an unwitnessed accident occurred only if the employee can establish that: (1) no other evidence discredits or casts serious doubt upon the worker’s version of the incident; and (2) the worker’s testimony is corroborated by the circumstances following the alleged incident. Ardoin v. Firestone Polymers, L.L.C., 10-0245 (La. 1/19/11), 56 So. 3d 215, 218.
Because evidence such as the delay in medical treatment raised doubt and Gibson lacked other corroboration, the dismissal of her claim was upheld. Gibson reminds that questionable unwitnessed accident claims without corroborating evidence can and should be dismissed via pretrial motion, notwithstanding the “relaxed rules of evidence and procedure” in workers’ compensation courts.
Ed Stauss is a partner with Keogh Cox. His practice relates mainly to workers compensation defense and the subrogation recovery. Ed is an avid and long time fan of the professional and major college sports teams in the area. He also enjoys running year-round, from 2 milers & 5Ks in the spring and summer to half marathons and full marathons in the fall and winter.