Pot-Hole Blues

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Q: My fire truck hit a pot hole in the road, and the air-suspension seat shot up and down.  Afterwards, my back was bothering me, so I applied for benefits.  The fire district denied my application, saying that the injury was a preexisting one that I must have sustained while off duty.

In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, I requested a hearing.  The district’s medical expert testified that my pain was related not to the incident, but to a fractured lumbar vertebra I had sustained in the past.   The battalion chief testified that, during his investigation, I had related a different version of the events.  Also, the district mechanic said that he had examined the seat and found nothing wrong with its operation or adjustment mechanisms.

Nevertheless, the hearing officer ruled in my favor.  He did not discuss my evidence, which was minuscule, but he said that the district’s denial of benefits was not supported by substantial evidence.  Now the district is taking this court, saying that the burden was upon me to give evidence for benefits, not upon the district to give evidence against them.

A: Under a typical collective bargaining agreement, it is the employee’s burden to prove that he is entitled to benefits, and the hearing officer is required to conduct the hearing in accordance with the established rules of evidence, consistent with the state administrative procedure act.  That act requires the district’s denial of benefits to be upheld if substantial evidence supports it.

In accordance with the act’s standard and in light of the terms of a typical CBA, the district would be right: the independent hearing officer was required to give deference to the district’s decision, and you bore the burden of proof.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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