Court Upholds Exotic Dancer’s Workers Comp Claim

Q Boyer
INDIANAPOLIS — In a decision issued Tuesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a workers compensation claim entered by an exotic dancer who was injured while working the pole at a Fort Wayne, Ind., strip club in 2001.

In upholding the claim of dancer Angela Hobson, the court further ordered that the state’s workers compensation board determine whether she is due double compensation on her claim, due to the fact that the club failed to carry workers compensation insurance at the time of Hobson’s injury.

According to court documents, Hobson began her employment as a dancer at the Shangri-La club in Fort Wayne on Dec. 7, 2001, and was injured less than two weeks later. On Dec. 20, Hobson was on stage “performing a pole trick when she sprung around the pole and felt a pull in her neck,” according to testimony in the case.

After receiving treatment for her injury, including surgery performed in January 2002, Hobson filed an application for an adjustment of claim with the state workers compensation board. In June of last year, the board awarded Hobson temporary total disability benefits and other compensation.

In its ruling, the workers compensation board issued several findings of fact and law, including that Shangri-La “did not have a policy of workers compensation insurance and was not approved by the board as a self-insurer at the time of the alleged injury.”

The board’s ruling noted that witnesses for Shangri-La “adamantly deny knowledge of the injury and deny noticing that [Hobson] was absent from work around January 14, 2002, the date [Hobson] underwent her first cervical spine fusion.” The club, however, didn’t present any evidence that established whether Hobson was present for work or absent from the time of her surgery in 2002.

The board further noted that the club “did not have adequate procedures for recording work injuries, did not maintain adequate business records, did not have workers compensation coverage in place and did not have a notice of coverage posted,” adding that if Shangri-La had provided appropriate coverage and postings “it is at least possible that this dispute would have been resolved long ago.”

In its appeal of the board’s ruling, Shangri-La argued that there was “insufficient evidence supporting the board’s award to Hobson,” but that argument essentially was deemed irrelevant by the court, given the limited scope of its review of the case on appeal.

“As we consider this argument, we note that we are bound by the board’s findings of fact and may not disturb its determination unless the evidence is undisputed and leads undeniably to a contrary conclusion,” the court wrote in its decision. “It is the duty of the board, as the trier of fact, to make findings that reveal its analysis of the evidence and that are specific enough to permit intelligent review of its decision.”

The upshot of Shangri-La’s argument, the court noted, was that “its witnesses were more credible and its evidence more weighty than Hobson’s,” but that argument simply was not among the things the court could consider in the case, according to the court’s decision.

“[W]e neither assess witness credibility nor reweigh the evidence when reviewing an award of the board,” the court wrote. “Here, Hobson testified that she injured herself on the job and presented a substantial amount of medical evidence supporting that testimony. It was for the board to decide whose story was more believable. The board believed Hobson, and we cannot predicate error on that conclusion. Consequently, we affirm the board’s judgment in favor of Hobson.”

Attorney Rob Apgood told XBIZ that the case is an example of why it is important for businesses to carry insurance covering employees who engage in any manner of rigorous physical activity on the job — not just exotic dancing.

“They should have covered their employees with workers compensation insurance, knowing that dancers’ jobs involve more strain and risk of injury than do most jobs,” Apgood said. “Not carrying the insurance was a bad business decision.”

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