Finding of Compensability Reversed Where Burden of Proof not Satisfied
West Fraser, Inc. v. Windell Caldwell, Sr.
On January 13, 2012, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released an opinion wherein it reversed a Trial Court’s finding of compensability. The matter was bifurcated at the trial court level and the issue of compensability was tried first. At trial, the employee testified that he hurt his back on December 17, 2009. Although he went to the doctor, the medical records did not indicate a workers’ compensation injury. Rather, the records indicated that the employee had been experiencing the problems for one week. The employee denied making that statement. The employee returned to a different doctor on December 19, 2009 and the records from that visit revealed that the employee denied an injury. The employee testified that he must have been misquoted. On December 21, 2009, the employee returned to the doctor for the third time and, this time, he referenced an injury date of December 21. The next day, the employer received a letter from the employee’s attorney which, according to the employer, was its first notice of an injury. Although his orthopedic surgeon initially opined that the plaintiff’s complaints were consistent with his work injury allegations, he backed off that testimony when confronted with the above mentioned medical records. In addition, the employer’s witnesses testified that the employee did not follow proper reporting procedures. In finding in favor of the employee, the Judge relied heavily on the employee’s exemplary work history.
In reversing the Trial Court opinion, the Court of Appeals relied on the fact that the employee repeatedly indicated to his doctors that his injury was not work related before changing his tune on the third visit. In a footnote, the Court indicated that it recognized the possibility that two separate medical providers on two different occasions could make the same error on two separate days. However, it further noted that the law in Alabama does not allow an employer to be held liable on a mere possibility.