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The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned an award to an injured worker after determining that an administrative law judge’s conclusion that Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. denied, delayed or interfered with the worker’s treatment for a back injury was unsupported by substantial evidence.
New York-based Metro‐North sought review of a final order of the U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Review Board that affirmed the decision of an administrative law judge who concluded that injured worker Anthony Santiago was entitled to relief under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, according to Metro‐North Commuter R.R. Co. v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor.
Mr. Santiago hurt his back when he fell from a broken chair in mid‐2008, according to court documents. Metro‐North’s Occupational Health Services, a non‐treatment facility operated and staffed by a contractor, Take Care Health Systems, determined that same day that the injury was occupational and the railroad company paid 100% of Santiago’s reasonable treatment costs.
About three months after the accident, while Mr. Santiago’s treatment was ongoing, a physician assistant for the contractor deemed Mr. Santiago’s occupational injury resolved, relieving Metro‐North of its obligation to pay – a determination confirmed by the contractor’s medical doctor a few weeks later.
Mr. Santiago contended that, as a result, he had to delay his manipulation under anesthesia treatments — chiropractic procedures recommended by his doctor — for several months while he arranged for an alternative method of payment. He filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that Metro‐North denied, delayed or interfered with his medical treatment in violation of the federal railroad safety statute. An administrative law judge eventually ruled in his favor and awarded injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
But the New York-based appellate court concluded that the administrative law judge’s determination was unsupported by substantial evidence in vacating the decision and remanding the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
“Certainly, to meet the substantial evidence standard, an agency need not find a smoking gun,” the appeals court said. “Circumstantial evidence can be sufficient, particularly in light of the deferential standard of review. Here, however, the (administrative law judge) – and, by extension, the (Administrative Review Board) – speculated, without basis in the record, that the mere existence of Metro‐North’s contractual rights and the physical presence of a Metro‐North administrator at (Occupational Health Services) were enough to overwhelm the independence of judgments made by experienced medical professionals. Conclusions must be supported by evidence, however, and here there is none.”
An attorney for Metro-North said the company does not comment on active litigation and the injured worker's lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.
A federal appeals court has reinstated a retaliation charged filed by a railroad worker who alleged he was given a 15-day suspension for wearing earrings he had worn during his entire 12 years at the railroad because he had filed safety complaints.