When an individual applies for a new job, they often receive a pre-employment application and questionnaire. As a part of this application, in addition to being asked about your personal information, the often ask questions about your health and physical well-being. Employers are within their rights to ask about your physical condition prior to employing you in order to assess if you are physically able to perform the work that you are being hired for. This mostly occurs in positions that require physical labor, but can come up in applications for any type of employment.
The most common questions found on pre-employment applications or questionnaires is “Have you ever been injured?” or “Have you ever injured the following body parts,” and includes a list such as neck, knee, shoulder, etc. If you are applying to a job and falsely answer, this can be grounds for a denial of insurance coverage in a Workers’ Compensation claim. In other words, if you are ever injured at that same job where you gave wrong information, your claim may be denied in its entirety.
The Florida Supreme Court in Martin Company v. Carpenter, 132 So. 2d 400 (Fla. 1961) held that a claimant who intentionally misrepresents a pre-existing condition to his employer and who is later injured in a work-related accident will be barred from collecting compensation and medical benefits if certain elements are met. Those elements require the employer to prove (1) the claimant knew the misrepresentation was false; (2) the employer would not have hired the claimant had the employer known the truth about the claimant’s condition; and (3) there exists a causal connection between the pre-existing condition and the subsequent work-related injury.
The law places this burden on the employer to prove the elements indicated, but many courts have liberally interpreted these elements in past cases and given deference to employers.
The first element states that the employee must have known that the statement they were making was false. A misrepresentation is not the same as making a mistake because the definition of a misrepresentation includes that there was “intent” to mislead and not simply forgetting. In some ways, it would seem hard to overcome this burden but it’s extremely challenging to show that someone simply forgot an injury especially if they were treating for it close to the time they completed the application or if the injury was really significant (i.e. requiring surgery or resulting from a very traumatic event). Since there has been fraud in the workers’ compensation system in the past, judges have a difficult time deciphering if someone truly forgot something or if they intentionally mislead.
The second element requires that the employer would not have hired the claimant if they would have known of the condition. This is known as “detrimental reliance.” In this element, the employer only needs to provide some evidence that the employer would not have hired the employee had they known about the prior condition. They can meet this element by simply providing testimony to this effect.
The third element involves proving a causal relationship between the pre-existing condition and new injury. This can only be proved through medical evidence. While this may sound like a challenging element, in Workers’ Compensation, the employer has the upper-hand on this as well. In the state of Florida, when an individual becomes injured on the job, the employer and their insurance carrier get to select the medical care. This means that if someone receives treatment for a Workers’ Compensation claim, doctors chose by the carrier treat them. Typically, since these doctors are paid by the insurance company, they tend to be very conservative and ofter will make findings that are more favorable to the insurance company and less favorable to the injured worker. Since there are doctors who will be providing testimony to a Workers’ Compensation judge, the employer/carrier will usually be able to meet this element of proof.
Since the laws in Florida are written more favorably for the insurance carriers and employers, it is important to be aware of your rights as an employee. Obviously, when filling out a pre-employment application, the best course of action is to be honest regarding any prior accidents or injuries. Before you answer “no” be absolutely sure of your response. It is better to indicate that you do not recall or leave the space blank if you’re not certain. In fact, the courts have held that if you leave the space blank, the employer cannot meet their burden of proof against you.
Insurance carriers attempt to use the Martin v. Carpenter defense pretty frequently. These cases are often very complex and require legal knowledge. It is paramount to have an experienced advocate working for you. To discuss your case or any of the benefits available to you under the law, please give us a call at (800) 561-7777.