North Carolina Workers’ Compensation: The Court in McNea v. Industrial Commission of Ohio Defines “Employment”

When you think about employment you probably think about a job in retail, manufacturing, or a job in an office. But in an Ohio workers’ compensation (WC) case, the court has included drug dealing as “remunerative employment.” See State ex rel. McNea v. Industrial Commission of Ohio et al., No. 2012-Ohio-1296 (Mar. 29, 2012).
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This case centers on the fact that a man lost his WC benefits when it was found that he was continuously dealing drugs while considered permanently disabled. The general rule in workers’ compensation in North Carolina is that if you receive permanent total disability (PTD) benefits from WC and you engage in some other continuous employment, you can lose your original WC benefits.

Workers’ compensation can be very complicated in its application. Our experienced Carolina disability attorneys can help you understand WC and get the benefits to which you are entitled.

McNea (plaintiff) is a former police officer that sustained injuries while he was working in this capacity. Because of his injuries, plaintiff applied for WC benefits and received permanent total disability (PTD) in 2004. During the time of his WC application and following its approval, the same police department where he worked was performing an investigation of whether the plaintiff was involved in the sale of narcotics. This information was not released to WC.

A year after plaintiff’s WC award, he was arrested and charged with twenty counts of criminal activity. Plaintiff pled guilty to four counts and served three years in prison for dealing narcotics. Upon his arrest in 2005, plaintiff’s WC benefits were terminated. The main issue in this case was whether it should be found that the earlier benefits were overpaid.

In WC it is generally accepted that when someone is receiving benefits for PTD, these benefits can be eliminated when the beneficiary obtains continuous employment elsewhere. Another applicable law of WC here is that any WC award is terminated if the claimant is incarcerated.

The WC Bureau argued that as of the first date in 2005 that the plaintiff accepted money from police informants in exchange for drugs, this began continuous “sustained remunerative employment.” They also claimed that the plaintiff was engaged in this activity even before he received his initial award in 2004. Because of this, the Bureau claimed that all benefits paid to the plaintiff should be considered overpaid because of this employment.

Upon review of the plaintiff’s WC claim, the staff hearing officer (SHO) found that it would be correct to eliminate any benefits to the plaintiff as of the day of his arrest. However, the SHO found that it would not be appropriate to consider benefits paid while plaintiff was dealing drugs to be considered overpaid. The reasoning that was cited is that the SHO found that there was no proof that the plaintiff “was involved in sustained remunerative employment at the time of the permanent and total disability hearing.”

The court her cited important case law. Activity will be considered “sustained remunerative employment.” regardless of whether the activity a claimant is participating in is legal or illegal. The only requirement of this type of classification is that there must be proof presented that there was an ongoing pattern of activity.

For the reasons explained above, this court found that when someone is engaged in the continuous dealing of drugs this activity will be considered a sustained remunerative employment for WC purposes. Therefore, the benefits sent to plaintiff before the sate of his first drug sale to police informants will be considered overpaid.

If you, a coworker or someone who is in your family has been injured or killed in a work-related accident in North Carolina, contact the Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Lee Law Offices, P.A. for legal advice regarding your case and your rights. We are a dedicated law firm that is here to help to protect the rights of injured workers and their families. Call today to schedule a free and confidential appointment. Call 1-800-887-1965.

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