All workers’ compensation practitioners know that they must conduct the proper due diligence and research to build a credible and legitimate case. Recent Noteworthy Panel Decisions (NPDs) can expose practitioner flaws as well as shed light on how to properly build and defend a case.
The WCJ or Appeals Board has been known to deny cases that are not properly prepared or have evidentiary pieces that just don’t add up. However, most of the time, evidence is admissible. In the NPD of Powell v. Vietnam Investment, 2016 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 211, the WCAB wrote: “While a party’s failure to lay a foundation, to authenticate, and to corroborate documentary evidence with oral testimony may affect the weight and substantiality of the evidence, these possible deficiencies do not necessarily render that evidence inadmissible. Stand alone evidence might not be a deciding factor, but evidence as a component of an overall sound case will likely help to achieve the desired result.”
Foundational strength of evidence often comes into play not only for questions of AOE/COE, but also when a permanent disability (PD) rating is being determined for a case. Factors that determine PD include whole person impairment (WPI), the occupational group number, the age of the injured worker, and the future earning capacity “adjustment factor.” Each factor is important, but too often, parties fail to adequately consider a simple issue such as how the selected occupational group number can impact a case. A factual foundation for evidence, built by credible testimony and sound reason, can sway the decision of what an applicant’s occupational group number should be. A certain occupational group number can significantly change the financial outcome of the case. This logic applies to all other factors when determining PD or any other relevant issue to the claim – the bottom line is that evidence with strong support can make or break a case.
Sustaining your burden of proof at trial is the top priority. It’s always safe to assume that using strong evidence as a cog in an overall solid wheel will almost always assist a Workers’ Compensation Judge in his or her decision much more than uncorroborated evidence. Do your diligent discovery, obtain and prepare good witnesses and medical reports and focus on the goals and weight of your evidence. Your preparation and presentation of the credibility of your evidence will help you convince the Judge to decide in your favor.