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A workers compensation referee ruled properly that a worker's “addictive tendency” and consistent focus on getting narcotic pain medication contributed to disqualifying her from continuing to receive disability benefits, Idaho's Supreme Court has ruled.
The ruling in Katherine H. Harris v. Independent School District No. 1 resulted from an injury Ms. Harris suffered in January 2008, when the school bus driver fell while exiting a bus.
After receiving nine months of medical care, including pain medication, she filed for a full range of workers comp benefits.
Medical records at the time, however, showed that Ms. Harris had a history of suffering back and neck pain incidents and that she used prescription pain medications before the 2008 accident, court records state.
The records also showed incidents prior to the 2008 accident in which Ms. Harris ran out of pain medications earlier than prescribed and told medical providers she needed more on various occasions due to accidentally spilling her pills in a sink and her pills being stolen from her luggage while traveling.
There was also evidence of her family's concern about her use of pain medications, their attempts to limit her consumption and Ms. Harris breaking a contract with a physician who attempted to limit her medication use.
A referee eventually found that Ms. Harris unquestionably suffered an injury when she fell from the school bus steps in January 2008. But the referee recommended that she receive temporary total disability and medical benefits only until Feb. 19, 2008, when she reached maximum medical improvement from that accident.
In reaching his findings, the referee focused on Ms. Harris' pre-existing conditions and her inconsistencies in describing her symptoms. He also said her “addictive tendency” opened the door to the possibility she was seeking ongoing workers comp benefits to continue receiving pain medication.
Idaho's Industrial Commission agreed with the referee's recommendation and Ms. Harris appealed to Idaho's Supreme Court. She contested the referee's diagnoses of her medication use and his finding that she lacked credibility.
But on May 24, the Idaho Supreme Court found that determining the credibility of witnesses and evidence is within the Industrial Commission's role and upheld the referee's recommendation.
“Here, we conclude that the commission had substantial, competent evidence that Harris lacked substantive credibility,” the Supreme Court ruled. “The commission's credibility finding was predicated on its conclusion that Harris was an 'inconsistent historian' of the accident and her symptoms. The record is replete with Harris' contradictions — contradictions regarding how the accident occurred, her health history and her symptoms.”