Employee Benefits Cut for Failing to Follow Rehabilitation Order

The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed a Workers’ Compensation Judge’s decision reducing the claimant’s compensation benefits by 50% due to the claimant’s failure to comply with a previously ordered vocational rehabilitation program.

On October 17, 2006, Claimant suffered a back injury while working for Employer.  The workers’ compensation judge issued an order on July 7, 2011, naming a vocational rehabilitation specialist and ordering Claimant to participate in an adult education program to obtain his GED as approved by his treating physician and take the entrance exam for the program.

Claimant subsequently took and failed the GED exam twice.  In neither instance did Claimant enroll in any remedial classes prior to taking the exams.  Following his second failure, the vocational rehabilitation expert directed Claimant to enroll in remedial classes prior to taking the exam again.  Claimant refused to enroll.  On May 15, 2014, the judge granted Employer’s motion to reduce compensation benefits by 50% based on Claimant’s failure to cooperate with the July 2011 rehabilitation order. Claimant appealed.

La.R.S. 23:1226(B)(3)(c) provides that the employer may reduce an employee’s weekly compensation during the period of the employee’s refusal to accept vocational rehabilitation.  On appeal, Claimant did not dispute that he was instructed by his vocational rehabilitation to attend the GED classes and failed to do so.  Instead, he argued that his attendance was contrary to his doctor’s recommendations.  The Second Circuit noted that Claimant relied on a report from his physician dated after Employer sought to reduce Claimant’s benefits.  Further, on two previous occasions, Claimant’s physician had commented that Claimant was capable of attending the recommended classes.  In weighing the opinion of Claimant’s treating physician against those of Employer’s doctor and the court-appointed independent medical examiner, the Court held that the workers’ compensation judge’s grant of Employer’s motion was not manifestly erroneous.  The reversal of Claimant’s treating physician’s initial opinion was a factor in determining what weight the treating doctor’s opinion should be given.

Willis Knighton Health System v. Sims