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Ex-Potlatch Employee Must Repay Worker’s Comp Court Orders $23,000 Repaid After Lying About Injury

The Idaho Supreme Court has ordered a former Potlatch Corp. employee to repay more than $23,000 in worker’s compensation benefits he received after lying about the cause of an injury.

The unanimous opinion issued Friday upheld an Idaho Industrial Commission ruling that by falsely reporting that his right thumb was injured in a work-related accident, Fred E. Berglund forfeited his right to compensation and must reimburse Potlatch and Workers Compensation Exchange.

Berglund actually dislocated his thumb while playing basketball in January 1991. He was laid off by Potlatch the same month for economic reasons, and when he returned to work in May 1991 he claimed he had injured his thumb on the job.

An Industrial Commission claim for worker’s compensation resulted in Berglund receiving more than $23,000 in medical and time-loss benefits. But his story later unraveled when several doctors testified that he had lied.

Berglund was charged in Nez Perce County with providing false information to an insurer, and in May 1995 he was sentenced to two to five years in prison. The judge suspended the sentence and gave Berglund a six-month jail sentence and five months on probation.

In October 1995, the Industrial Commission found that Berglund had not been involved in a work-related accident and issued its reimbursement order. Berglund appealed, arguing that he was denied his right to due process of law and that ordering him to pay reimbursement based on a criminal conviction violated his rights against double jeopardy.

But the Supreme Court said Berglund’s appeal did not dispute the Industrial Commission’s findings that his testimony was inconsistent, that he was not a credible witness and that he did not suffer a workrelated injury.

“Those determinations were made independently of the criminal conviction, and provide a sufficient basis for the commission’s finding that Berglund ‘willfully made a false statement or representation’ for the purpose of obtaining worker’s compensation benefits,” Justice Cathy Silak wrote.

The court also found that ordering Berglund to repay the benefits was “civil and remedial” rather than “criminal and punitive,” so double jeopardy did not apply.

Tags: fraud, ruling