Supreme Court rejects work comp claim

Steve Korris Jan. 24, 2011, 1:27am

Louisiana Supreme Court Justices rejected a workers' compensation claim because they didn't believe the worker's story.

On Jan. 19, all seven Justices ruled that Firestone Polymers employee Kenneth Ardoin should not collect benefits for a knee injury.

They overturned workers' compensation judge Sam Lowery, who credited Ardoin's story that he delayed reporting his injury because he feared reprimand.

The Justices found no evidence to corroborate his account, and ample indications that discredited or cast serious doubt on it.

Justice Greg Guidry wrote that "the objective evidence in this record, combined with the plaintiff's internally inconsistent and implausible testimony, casts such suspicion on his account of the accident as to show manifest error in the hearing officer's credibility finding."

He wrote that without a witness, a worker's testimony can prove an accident only if no other evidence casts doubt on it and if following circumstances corroborate it.

"Our review of the record reveals the plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proving both exceptions," Guidry wrote.

Ardoin started working for Firestone Polymers, in Calcasieu County, in 1992.

In 2001, he reported to supervisors that he injured his hands in an accident.

They wrote him up for unsafe activity.

In 2006, he consulted family physician Craig Broussard about pain in his right knee.

Broussard referred him to surgeon Alan Hinton, who repaired a torn meniscus.

Ardoin returned to his job as laboratory batch analyst, which required him to pedal a bicycle from the lab to a reactor, climb 28 stairs, collect samples, climb down, and pedal the bike back to the lab.

He returned to Hinton in 2007, complaining that both knees hurt, and Hinton diagnosed him with degenerative joint disease.

Firestone Polymers began paying him 80 percent of his salary.

For months he wrote on an accident and sickness form that his injury wasn't related to work, but one day he wrote "not sure."

Company nurse Jayde Butler asked what he meant, and he said he wasn't sure what was going on with his knees.

Butler recommended a test for rheumatoid arthritis, and the result was negative.

Ardoin applied for benefits after his 80 percent benefit ran out.

"The plaintiff claimed that, some time in June 2006 while riding his bicycle to collect a sample, he almost fell off the bicycle, but to avoid falling, he threw his right leg down and twisted the knee," Guidry wrote.

Firestone Polymers challenged the claim.

At trial, Ardoin admitted he didn't report the accident for 18 months.

"He claimed there was an unspoken word at Firestone that if an employee reported an accident, he or she would be reprimanded," Guidry wrote.

Lowery found that a disabling injury occurred as a result of a work accident.

He wrote that "few workers' compensation claims are characterized by rigid, unwavering adherence to an ideal chronology which could produce, at a glance, an accurate picture of exactly what happened and why."

He added $2,000 in penalties and $12,500 in attorney fees Ardoin's lawyer, Greg Marceaux.

Third Circuit appeals judges in Lake Charles affirmed Lowery in awarding benefits, 5-0, but they were split, 3-2, on the penalties and fees.

At the Supreme Court, Ardoin's story persuaded no one.

Guidry found "no indication that he told Dr. Broussard that he had suffered a work related accident by nearly falling off his bicycle."

He wrote that Broussard's records show Ardoin denied any falls or injuries.

He wrote that Hinton's report from 2006 doesn't indicate he reported a work injury.

He wrote that when nurse Butler asked what he meant by "not sure," he didn't report a bike accident but repeated that his knees hurt.

"When queried as to why he had not reported the accident to anyone, though he believed he had done so, the plaintiff initially claimed he had either forgotten or had been in too much pain to remember," he wrote.

He wrote that Ardoin "ultimately claimed he had not reported a work related accident because he feared negative repercussions for violating an unspoken rule at Firestone not to report accidents."

He wrote that the particular circumstances surrounding the failure to report the alleged accident discredit or cast serious doubt on the claim.

He wrote that Firestone Polymers safety manager Steven Trahan denied the existence of an unwritten policy against reporting accidents.

"Trahan further testified employees were not reprimanded for reporting an accident, though they could possibly be reprimanded for failing to report an accident," he wrote.

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