Proving Extent of Injury Key in NC Worker Compensation Cases

A North Carolina appellate court recently ruled in Hollifield v. Commc’ns Installations Specialists that proving injuries are compensable is not enough to establish full disability.
In other words, a plaintiff alleging a work injury in North Carolina must establish not only the source of those injuries but the extent, if he or she hopes to collect longer-term disability benefits in addition to costs for immediate medical expenses and lost wages. This maximizes the amount of benefits one can expect to collect.

Effectively proving the extent of one’s injuries means immediately reporting the injury after it occurs, as well as attending any and all follow-up appointments as recommended.

In this case, the 62-year-old plaintiff, who had worked in construction for approximately four decades, was injured in October 2009 while on the job. While the job site was in Tennessee, the company was based in Georgia. However, the employment contract was entered into in North Carolina, giving the state’s industrial commission jurisdiction over the subsequent claim.

According to court documents, the plaintiff tripped while getting off a backhoe. He fell and landed on his head, prompting him to be immediately rushed to a nearby hospital. He underwent a CT scan, which revealed injuries to his head, back, neck and ribs.

He returned to work in North Carolina the following day, but he was ultimately terminated because he was not able to perform the physical demands of the job. Upon his return, he saw his family physician, who could not establish that the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries were suffered in the fall, nor could he causally relate his disability to the injury.

The commission ultimately concluded that while the plaintiff was entitled to receive compensation for his past and future medical expenses as a result of his injuries, he did not meet the criteria to collect disability payments.

The plaintiff appealed on the grounds that the commission abused its discretion in failing to allow him to submit further evidence as to the extent of his injuries – which he contended would prove he was disabled.

The appellate court said it would not reweigh every element of the evidence in its entirety, but instead focus on the issue of abuse of discretion.

The appellate court noted that while there was no doubt the injury occurred on the job and that as such, some of his expenses were covered under state workers’ compensation law, the denial of longer-term benefits was proper on the basis that the plaintiff failed to establish the extent of his injuries.

In order to grant the plaintiff disability, the commission would have had to find that the employee lost partial or total use of his back as a result of that injury. But the plaintiff failed to present enough substantial evidence to support his claim. In fact, the one doctors whose medical records he produced did not consider him disabled.

Therefore, the appellate court confirmed.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Hollifield v. Commc’ns Installations Specialists, Nov. 5, 2013, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Audit: North Carolina Industrial Commission Ineffective, Feb. 18, 2013, Charlotte Worker Compensation Lawyer Blog

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