Taxpayer Wins Award for Tripping Over Phone Cord During an IRS Audit

Post Date: 1/27/14
Last Updated: 1/28/14


Cross References
- Berroyer, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of N.Y., January 2, 2014

On July 23, 2008, the taxpayer met with an IRS auditor at an IRS facility. The taxpayer did not notice a 15-foot unsecured telephone cord under the table in the conference room where he was being interviewed. When the taxpayer got up to leave, his foot became caught in the cord which caused him to fall into a metal filing cabinet and consequently suffer serious injuries. The taxpayer sued the IRS for personal injuries sustained during the accident.

The taxpayer was 61 years old at the time of the accident and testified that he was in relatively good health, although he suffered from hearing problems and needed hearing aids. He testified to the court that he had no prior issues with his neck, back, legs, and feet. After the accident, the taxpayer was able to walk to his truck in the parking lot and drive back to his place of business. But after not feeling well, his wife drove him to the hospital for a spinal tap and MRI. He was admitted to the hospital and placed in intensive care. He remained in the hospital for seven days. After being discharged from the hospital, he continued to suffer from paralysis and pain in his legs. He went to physical therapy five days a week and needed crutches to walk. He appeared in court in a wheelchair. The taxpayer began receiving Workers' Compensation and Social Security Disability after not being able to return to work.

The IRS introduced evidence claiming the taxpayer was exaggerating his injuries. The MRI findings from the hospital were relatively minor. He was able to stand and walk during his hospital stay. He was diagnosed with "acute paraplegia, psychogenic in origin." The medical records revealed "psychogenic paraplegia cannot be ruled out," and "patient able to maintain stand one minute." A psychological consultation revealed "neuro exam and MRI findings not compatible with subjective complaints, raising question of conversion disorder. Affect is somewhat inappropriately bright."

The IRS also introduced evidence revealing that the taxpayer had a history of chronic recurrent low back, leg, and neck pain prior to this accident. He consulted with a doctor for severe vertigo and dizziness, and complained about joint pain including calf pain, leg pain, knee and wrist pain, which was aggravated by activity. Five years before the accident at the IRS facility, he was given epidural injections for complaints of back and lower spine pain. In 2005, he was diagnosed with "mechanical low back pain with underlying degenerative disk disease with sciatic component, possible stenosis spinal." The medical exam said: "...this is a 58-year-old male who presents with history of predominantly left lower extremity pain, numbness and paresthesia along the posterior aspect to the foot with intermittent low back pain as well. The low back pain is only slight in degree with his main complaint being the left lower extremity symptoms which he rates at 7 out of 10 in severity, increasing with prolonged standing, walking, and general activities and improved with lying down and sitting."

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