It was, in a sense, a single comma that was the deciding factor in the workers’ compensation case of Falin v. The Roberts Co. Field Services, Inc., recently before the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Central to this case is North Carolina General Statute 97-2(22) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which defines “suitable employment” as far as temporary partial disability payments are concerned. When a worker is able to return to work – but not necessarily to the exact same type of work – the company must try to offer suitable employment. If the company does not have suitable alternative employment, it has to continue paying disability benefits. The statute defines suitable employment as one that the employee is capable of doing considering preexisting and injury-related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills and education, and is one that’s located in a 50-mile radius of the worker’s residents at the time of injury or the employee’s current residence if employee had a legitimate reason to relocate. The law further states no one factor will be considered exclusively in determining suitability.
Defendant company in this case offered the partially injured worker a job that was more than 350 miles from his home, but argued that because the statute says, “no one factor will be considered exclusively,” this alone wasn’t grounds to consider the employment not suitable. The appeals court disagreed, noting, “Defendant ignores the grammatical construction of the statute, which separates the 50-mile radius requirement as an entirely separate clause, not jointed to the other “factors” by a comma, and thus not part of that serial list of factors.” Had the statute been written in reverse order, the court ruled, the 50-mile radius rule would have been considered an element in the series. But it isn’t. Thus, the worker won his case. Continue reading