Unwitnessed Accident Found Compensable

Claimant, Jerry Perez, while working as an airplane mechanic for Employer, Express Jet, when he began to experience pain in his neck and down his left side after spending much of his shift working on a “pre-cooler” with his neck in an extended position.  Claimant finished his shift and returned home where his wife massaged his neck and shoulders and applied a heating pad.  The pain and numbness intensified over the next couple of weeks and Claimant went to see his family doctor who diagnosed him with cervicalgia and thoracic pain.  The next week, Claimant reported the injury to Employer, which had him evaluated by its choice of physician.  Employer’s doctor diagnosed Claimant with neck pain and radiculopathy, but opined that these conditions were due to pre-existing degenerative disease rather than the work activity alleged by Claimant.  Claimant underwent a multilevel cervical fusion recommended by his treating physician.

The only issue presented for hearing was whether Claimant’s injury was caused by an accident as defined by the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act (“the Act”).  The workers’ compensation judge, noting that Claimant had not previously complained of neck pain or received treatment for these complaints, found that Claimant had suffered a compensable accident, as the evidence, including Claimant’s testimony and that of his wife, demonstrated that his symptoms developed quickly after the accident and continued to worsen as Claimant continued to work.

On appeal, the Second Circuit stated that under the Act, a claimant must establish a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.  Further, an accident is an unexpected or unforeseen actual, identifiable, precipitous event happening suddenly or violently, with or without human fault, and directly producing at the time objective findings of an injury which is more than simply a gradual deterioration or progressive degeneration.  The Court noted that a claimant’s own testimony alone may establish that an unwitnessed accident occurred so long as: (1) no other evidence discredits or cast serious doubt upon the claimant’s version of events; and (2) the claimant’s testimony is corroborated by the circumstances following the alleged accident.  Such corroboration may be provided by the testimony of fellow workers, spouses, or friends, or by medical evidence.  Claimant’s description of his symptoms were corroborated by his wife’s testimony and his treating physician’s medical records.  In finding the workers’ compensation judge’s determination reasonable, the Court affirmed.

Perez v. Express Jet, 50,731 (La.App. 2 Cir. 6/22/16), 2016 WL 3417519