Police officer awarded total disability in North Carolina workers’ compensation case after cancer diagnosis precludes knee surgery

A police officers was awarded total permanent disability benefits when her cancer diagnosis prevented her from receiving treatment for a Charlotte work injury, according to Risk and Insurance.

This case illustrates why it is so important to hire an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer when dealing with a work injury. Even minor work accidents can quickly lead to complex cases. Cases can remain open for years, and future injury, or a life-threatening health problem as occurred in this case, can further complicate a claim and may even threaten your ability to collect damages.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled the officer was entitled to total permanent disability benefits because the cancer, a non-work-related health issue, precluded her from undergoing surgery for a knee injury sustained while on the job. The officer injured the knee while working, received benefits while undergoing surgery and rehabilitation, and returned to work on light-duty restrictions. However, she sought surgery from a second doctor because of ongoing knee pain. Meanwhile, she was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer and her oncologist recommended against knee surgery.

Her employer argued she had not proven she was totally disabled, because the disability was caused by the cancer, and thus her inability to have surgery, and not the repairable knee injury. The court noted that North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law bases disability on an employee’s diminished capacity to earn wages, rather than physical impairment.

The employer also sought the award of a smaller percentage of disability benefits, but the court also declined. Lastly, the employer argued the employee should be forced to accept the light-duty assignment on a permanent basis. Again, the court declined, saying the officer’s regular job entitled her to significantly better pay.

The North Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Offices of Lee & Smith represent injured workers throughout South and North Carolina, including North Wilkesboro, Lincolnton and Morganton. Call today for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 800-887-1965.

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