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Court Rules Video Can Be Used as Evidence to Discontinue Disability Benefits

November 9, 2011
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Surveillance footage that showed an injured man working in a salvage yard can be used as evidence to discontinue his total temporary disability benefits, a Pennsylvania appellate court says.

In a unanimous decision Nov. 7, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court said Brian Soja was required to prove that he had a continuing disability when he filed for a reinstatement of his TTD benefits in 2006. It also said a video from employer Hillis-Carnes Engineering Associates Inc. disproved Soja's testimony about an ongoing back injury.

Soja hurt his back in 2005 while working as a manual laborer for Hillis-Carnes, and later exacerbated the injury twice while working for two other employers. He received TTD benefits for one month in 2006, and filed for reinstatement later that year.

At several hearings in front of a workers' compensation judge, Soja testified that he had constant back and leg pain that required him to walk with a cane and prevented him from driving or climbing stairs, among other activities. However, Hillis-Carnes presented a video from April 2008 that showed Soja walking around a salvage yard without a cane, lying on the ground to remove parts from a van, and throwing auto parts into the back of a truck.

The workers' comp judge granted TTD benefits to Soja from the date of his 2006 reinstatement petition to the date of the video's filming, saying that Soja failed to prove a continuing inability to work. The Pennsylvania's Workers' Compensation Appeal Board upheld that ruling.

The appellate court unanimously affirmed the previous decisions, saying Soja held the burden of proof about the extent of his injuries when he sought to reinstate his benefits.

"Here, the factual issue in the reinstatement petition was whether the claimant's loss of wages was caused by ongoing pain," the ruling reads. "Given this issue, we agree with the board that it was claimant's burden to prove that the pain has persisted, not dissipated, through the pendency of the reinstatement proceeding."

The ruling noted that the video would have been insufficient evidence if the employer had sought to reduce Soja's compensation from TTD to partial disability benefits.

"This is because films do not explain whether the claimant was 'working faster or slower'… and do not 'accurately measure his speed, energy and efficiency at work; they do not constitute an infallible measure of either disability or earning power,'" the ruling reads.

Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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