- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Employees who claim workers' compensation are presumed to be eligible for benefits unless their employers can prove their injuries were not job-related, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled last month.
The case involved a Paul Brothers Oldsmobile employee who said he was injured when he fell on the job. Because no one saw him fall, an administrative law judge ruled the man could not receive benefits. But the appeals court reversed the decision, citing a presumption in favor of compensation.
"It's hard to take issue with what the court did," said Henry Morris Jr., a Washington-based employment lawyer.
"The idea of a workers' compensation scheme is to provide employees with a relatively prompt method of gaining compensation when there's a work-related injury," he said. "The burden is normally placed on the employer to prove a lack of a compensable injury."
Joseph Murray, a body shop craftsman for Paul Brothers Oldsmobile, with headquarters in Herndon, suffered a hip injury that he said occurred while he was trying to attach a chain to the back of a car on his job. He said he slipped on a piece of wet plastic and slid down a ramp into a railing.
Although no one saw him fall, he reported the injury to a co-worker and his supervisors. The manager allowed him to go home early. His wife later took him to Washington Adventist Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a traumatic injury to his right hip.
Mr. Murray filed a workers' compensation claim for temporary total disability benefits. He said he was unable to return to work after the injury.
Paul Brothers Oldsmobile argued that Mr. Murray did not prove his injury was job-related. No witnesses testified they had seen him fall. The company also accused of him faking the severity of his injury.
The D.C. Department of Employment Services ruled that Mr. Murray should not receive workers' compensation because he failed to present "substantial evidence" of a job injury.
On appeal, Mr. Murray argued that the Department of Employment Services overlooked the legal presumption in favor of compensation. Under the presumption, unless employers can disprove an injury is job-related, the employees can receive compensation.
Mr. Murray said the fact no one saw him fall did not disprove his claim. Instead, it meant the presumption worked in his favor to allow him compensation.
The D.C. Court of Appeals agreed. The employer's main witness was a co-worker who was nearby when Mr. Murray said he fell. The co-worker admitted he was not watching Mr. Murray. He merely spoke with Mr. Murray moments after the claimed fall. The co-worker also seemed confused about some of the surrounding circumstances, such as how hard it was raining that day, the appeals court said.
Mr. Murray's evidence consisted of testimony from himself and co-workers to whom he reported the injury as well as doctors' reports that described the injury and the fact they believed it was job-related.
The co-worker's "testimony was not specific and comprehensive enough to rebut the presumption that Mr. Murray fell at work and injured himself as he claims he did," the court said.
"The [workers' compensation] act must be construed liberally for the benefit of employees and their dependents," the court said. "To benefit from the presumption of compensability and shift the burden to the employer to provide substantial evidence that the disability did not arise in the course of employment, the claimant only needs to make an initial demonstration of an employment-connected disability."

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