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Work comp court denies benefits based on social media evidence

A recent workers' compensation defense case out of Arkansas addressed a very interesting issue: Whether an employer/work comp carrier can introduce photos of an employee consuming alcohol as evidence to deny the award of additional work comp benefits.

According to the facts of the case, Zackery C., a warehouse employee in Pine Bluff, suffered a rather serious work-related hernia back in March 2009 when a refrigerator fell on him. The injury was serious enough that Zackery C. was awarded both medical expenses and temporary total disability benefits for over a year.

After three surgeries to treat the injury, Zackery C. recently sought an extension of his work comp benefits, claiming he needed additional medical treatment and disability payments due to "excruciating pain."

However, his employer and their work comp carrier challenged this extension of benefits, presenting diagnostic tests showing that no additional medical treatment was necessary and MySpace photos showing Zackery C. drinking with friends to rebut his claims that he was in excruciating pain.

Both the presiding administrative law judge (ALJ) and the Arkansas Compensation Commission found this evidence persuasive and denied Zackery C. an extension of benefits.

On appeal to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, Zackery C.'s attorney sought to prevent the admission of the MySpace photos, arguing that they were unrelated to the workplace accident and "a disgrace to the dignity of the workers' compensation proceedings and the legal system."

The court ultimately upheld the ruling of the ALJ and the Commission, citing both the diagnostic tests and the MySpace photos. More importantly, it also found that the admission of these photos was not an abuse of discretion.

"[Zackery C.] contended that he was in excruciating pain, but these pictures show him drinking and partying," reads the opinion. "Certainly these pictures could have a bearing on [Zackery C.'s] credibility, albeit a negative effect that [he] might not wish to be demonstrated to the ALJ or the Commission ... We hold that these was not an abuse of discretion in allowing the photographs."

Stay tuned for more from our workers' compensation defense blog ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Names have been withheld to protect the identities of the parties.

Source:

ABC News, "Court okays Facebook party photos in workers' comp claim" Feb. 3, 2012

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