The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit just released a new decision affirming the finding fraudulent the conduct of a claimant who lied under oath about his physical condition as work-related. This is a decision that holds workers’ compensation claimants accountable for their false statements under oath. Interestingly, both the claimant and the dissenting opinion appeared unbothered by a claimant’s lying under oath and argue that the reason for lying under oath should be the dispositive factor in finding fraud.
Rodriguez v. NOLA Motor Club – Background
In this recent Louisiana state workers’ compensation opinion, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the finding of the District 7 (Harahan) workers’ compensation judge’s factual finding that the claimant had committed fraud. In Rodriguez v. NOLA Motor Club, LLC, No. 19-447 (La.App. 5 Cir. 10/05/2020), Claimant Ramon Rodriguez was employed by NOLA Motor Club as a part time mechanic. Claimant alleged that he sustained a work-related injury when he was attempting to start a go-cart engine. The engine apparently produced a “false explosion,” which pulled him on top of the go-cart and causing injury to his lower back and left shoulder. When Claimant testified at his deposition, he further alleged under oath that his work injury caused him to suffer from anxiety and also caused him to develop chest pains.
Employer, having obtained prior medical records of Claimant’s pre-accident heart condition and pre-accident psychiatric records, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds that Claimant had committed fraud pursuant to La. R.S. 23:1208. Under that provision of the workers’ compensation statute, a worker is precluded from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits if he is found to willfully make a false statement or representation for purposes of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits. Employer argued that Claimant had committed fraud pursuant to Section 1208 when he lied under oath about his work accident causing various pre-existing medical conditions. The workers’ compensation judge agreed and granted the motion.
The CLAIMANT’S Appeal
On appeal, the claimant argued that because he was not claiming compensation for anxiety or heart-related statements, then his lies under oath were inconsequential. At the very least, according to Claimant, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his lies under oath were for purposes of obtaining workers’ compensation arguments. The Fifth Circuit did not find that argument compelling, ultimately holding that the record supported the judge’s finding of fraud. The majority opinion found that no reasonable person would “forget” about having prior heart surgery, “forget” about being admitted to the emergency room only months prior for chest pain, and “forget” about regularly seeing a therapist for anxiety.
The dissenting opinion indicated the workers’ compensation judge’s opinion should be reversed. Even if Claimant did lie under oath, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to why Claimant lied, i.e., were the lies for the purpose of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits. The dissent found that the matter should be remanded for further investigation of that fact.