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A construction foreman who suffered heatstroke on the job is entitled to workers compensation benefits in part due to the “arbitrary and capricious” handling of his claim, a state appellate court held on Tuesday.
The employer had argued that the worker’s co-morbidities caused the medical problem.
In Woodard v. Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Third Circuit in Lake Charles, Louisiana, unanimously affirmed an Office of Workers Compensation decision to grant the worker indemnity and medical benefits, supplemental earnings and attorney fees.
Dennis Woodard worked as a foreman for Woodlands, Texas-based Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. Due to a congenital single kidney, he was on blood pressure medication.
In May 2017, Mr. Woodard passed out while working on a construction site and was diagnosed with heat exhaustion and dehydration. He attempted to return to work but was ordered to receive cardiac clearance from his physician first, which he did through his group medical program, which included a copay.
Mr. Woodard was cleared to return to work in July, but one day after he was back on the job felt dizzy while at work and was taken to hospital for heat exhaustion and dehydration. His physician released him for work but advised him not to work in the heat.
Chicago Bridge said it could not accommodate the physician-advised restriction and terminated Mr. Woodard. The next month he found a job with another construction company working in climate-controlled machinery for less pay and fewer hours.
In April 2018, Mr. Woodard filed a disputed claim for compensation with the Office of Workers Compensation, arguing that Chicago Bridge failed to pay him indemnity and medical benefits he was owed, and alleged that the company handled his claim in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
The Office of Workers Compensation held that Mr. Woodard’s injury was compensable and that he was entitled to weekly indemnity befits, supplemental earnings and all medical expenses, including reimbursement for the cost of obtaining work clearance from a cardiologist, as well as penalties and attorney fees. Chicago Bridge appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the Office of Workers Compensations decision, holding that Mr. Woodard's heat exhaustion and resulting limitations were compensable. Although Chicago Bridge argued that Mr. Woodard’s incident at work was due to co-morbidities, not a single morning of work, the court held that the record reasonably showed that Mr. Woodard’s injury was heat exhaustion that he sustained in the course of his employment.
The appellate court also found that Chicago Bridge failed to offer Mr. Woodard a job to fit his restrictions or offer any vocational rehabilitation services as mandated by state law and held that the medical reimbursement, penalties and attorney fees awarded to Mr. Woodard were fair.