Multiple injuries can complicate North Carolina work accident claims

A Court of Appeals decision issued this week illustrates the importance of hiring a qualified attorney for a North Carolina work injury. In this case, the employee may be barred from obtaining a disability of more than 9 percent, despite suffering a subsequent heart attack on the job. The issue resulted from the settlement agreement for a prior back condition and the commission must now determine which medical records were used in reaching the agreement.

The employee was working for Lamar Outdoor Advertising, a billboard company, when he suffered a spinal injury after scaffolding collapsed beneath him. Lamar and its insurance company acknowledged the employee’s right to be compensated for the work injury under North Carolina workers’ compensation law.

After a year of treatment, an orthopaedic surgeon determined the employee had reached maximum improvement and assigned a 2 percent permanent partial impairment to his neck. The insurance carrier prepared an agreement that was never signed because the employee’s condition worsened. A year later, the man underwent neck surgery, before being released to return to work. The doctor then assigned a 5 percent whole body disability rating, equivalent to a 9 percent permanent partial disability of the employee’s back. Again, an agreement was prepared by the insurer but never signed.

Later that year, the employee experienced symptoms of a heart attack while on the job but did not report any symptoms to his supervisor. The next day, he underwent heart surgery. Several months later the employee told his physician he had experienced pain from wearing a harness and hard hat and requested work restrictions, which the doctor issued. However, the employee never returned to work.

Later that year, the employee signed an agreement in which the employer and insurance carrier agreed to pay a disability claim based on the 5 percent whole body/9 percent back disability. However, by that time, the employee was in the process of filing claims in connection with the heart attack and the permanent work restrictions. The commission denied the claim.

For the last five years the claim has been making its way through the appeal process. Most recently, the court returned it to the commission for a determination of which medical records were submitted with the 9 percent disability agreement — the old records indicating the back and neck injury, or the more recent records which included information about the heart attack.

The Law Offices of Lee & Smith represent clients dealing with work injuries throughout North Carolina, including Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Call today for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 800-887-1965.

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