In a recent workers’ compensation blog post, we discussed how administrative law judges weigh the credibility of testifying doctors. In short, it is very easy for these judges to see what they want to see. What an administrative judge wants to see typically aligns with their pro-business or pro-worker political stance, which in turn mirrors the stance of whoever appointed them to their position under Missouri Statute 287.610.
To make matters worse, credibility decisions are almost never overturned on appeal. While there are strong reasons for this, it can insulate workers’ compensation decisions and perpetuate the administrative judge’s personal beliefs.
Political Beliefs Color Judicial Decisions
In theory, judges are supposed to put aside their political opinions and beliefs when they hear a case. However, we all know that some judges are more “conservative” or “liberal” than others, and those tendencies show themselves in the judge’s opinions.
Administrative law judges that hear workers’ compensation cases in Missouri are no exception. More important than a generalized liberal or conservative slant, though, is whether the judge is pro-business or pro-worker.
Pro-worker administrative law judges are more likely to take the worker’s injury claim seriously. These judges have a genuine concern that businesses do not do enough to keep workers safe.
Pro-business judges, on the other hand, can bring a presumption that workers are faking their injuries into workers’ compensation cases.
Which side a particular judge falls on, and how strong their opinion already is, can influence their decision about whether a particular doctor is credible or not.
Credibility Determinations Are Insulated on Appeal
Of course, the losing side in a workers’ compensation hearing can appeal the administrative law judge’s decision. However, credibility determinations are notoriously difficult to overturn on appeal: They have to be completely unsupported by the evidence to get overruled.
The reason for this is straightforward. Administrative judges at the workers’ compensation hearing are the only ones who interact with witnesses and hear testimony. On appeal, the only thing that judges see is a transcript. Appeals judges recognize that they are in a terrible position to pick up on the hundreds of tiny ways that can build or break someone’s trustworthiness. They nearly always leave the administrative law judge’s credibility assessment intact. It is rare for appeals courts to overturn a credibility assessment.
This means the political stance of the administrative law judge – and the interests of the people who appointed that judge – can play a significant role in a workers’ compensation case.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph legally represent people who have been hurt while on the job. With their help, injured workers can fight for their rights to compensation.
Call the Smith Law Office at (816) 875-9373 to schedule a consultation. You can also contact them online.