Lack of Credibility Still Grounds for Denying a Claim
Thomas Lowe worked as a tire technician for Branson Automotive, which involved tire mounting, dismounting, and balancing in addition to oil changes. This job required frequent lifting between 50 and 100 pounds, bending, and squatting. Mr. Lowe sought benefits for an alleged February 8, 2012 neck and low back injury when lifting a wheel and tire that weighed approximately 110 pounds. Deputy Commissioner Ledford found the claim compensable and awarded indemnity and medical benefits. The Full Commission reversed and denied the claim.
The Court of Appeals, in Lowe v. Branson Automotive, upheld the Full Commission’s denial of Mr. Lowe’s claim for benefits based on his lack of credibility. The Court agreed with the Commission and relied on several facts to uphold the denial of this claim:
- First, Mr. Lowe failed to fully disclose his history of back problems during both the discovery phase of the case and during the hearing. Despite information provided in his discovery responses and during his hearing testimony, the evidence established that Mr. Lowe had sought treatment on many occasions for re-occurring low back pain. He received treatment as much as six years before the alleged at-work injury and he experienced daily back pain for two years before this alleged injury. This history of back pain was not disclosed to his treating doctors. Notably, the doctors testified that knowledge of Mr. Lowe’s history of back problems would have been important information to have when assessing his condition.
- Second, the evidence also showed that Mr. Lowe failed to report the alleged injury to the employer, even though he had previously reported a work-related knee injury in 2010 and thus was aware of the reporting process. Mr. Lowe mentioned that his back was sore, but he did not report this as an at-work incident.
- Third, Mr. Lowe provided varying descriptions of how his alleged injury occurred. The Court ultimately upheld the Commission’s finding that Mr. Lowe’s lack of credibility was the key factor in denying his claim for benefits.
Risk Handling Hints: The decision in Lowe serves as a reminder that lack of credibility is still grounds for denying a claim. It is important to get information from an employee and witnesses on how an injury occurred soon after it is reported. Some factors to consider when determining whether to deny a claim based on lack of credibility are:
- a delay in reporting the injury to the employer; pre-existing injury to the same body part;
- failure to disclose a pre-existing injury;
- different descriptions of how the injury occurred as noted in the medical records, reported to the employer, and/or during investigation of the claim.