It’s unnerving to think that months or even years after you, your doctors and your attorneys have established to the North Carolina Industrial Commission and perhaps even the courts that you suffered a work-related injury worthy of compensation, that those benefits might ultimately be challenged. Not only that, but your employer could later accuse you of overpayment, which you could be forced to pay if the court determines you were not disabled for as long as you collected benefits.
This actually happens more than you might think, and our Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers know how important it is to have a legal team with experience handling your case as soon as you receive notice from your employer about a potential overpayment.
This was the scenario weighed by the North Carolina Supreme Court recently in the case of Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Constr., LLC. Here, the employer (or in this case, former employer) asserted that the plaintiff’s lack of a job was not related to his disability, but rather to the overall poor economic climate.
The plaintiff had worked for decades in the construction industry in numerous capacity, following obtaining his degree in civil engineering. He was hired in the spring of 2006 to work as a project supervisor, which was slightly more physically demanding than in jobs he’d held in the past.
In the course of doing this job, he suffered a shoulder injury one day in 2008 while helping to move a large cabinet. He then worsened the injury later that day when he was moving a box of files that weighed 50 pounds.
A few months later, his employment was terminated as part of a series of lay-offs within the firm. The reason given for his lay-off was “lack of work.”
Soon after, the worker sought unemployment benefits, as well as workers’ compensation benefits for the earlier shoulder injury. He also began receiving treatment for the injury on his shoulder, including surgery and physical therapy. The pain continued to worsen until he was discharged from therapy, when an MRI revealed he appeared to have suffered a superior labral tear to his shoulder. The doctor concluded the injury could not have been connected to the work injury, though he was barred from climbing ladders, lifting weights greater than 10 pounds or performing any repetitive activities overhead.
While he was collecting workers’ compensation and unemployment, the worker began applying for, in his estimation, hundreds of jobs. However, he was unable to find the equivalent of work in the injury.
Eventually, his former employer filed an application to terminate payment of compensation, asserting the plaintiff could work, was no longer disabled and was not working solely because of the economic downturn. The company also demanded the former worker repay several months’ worth of benefits, saying he hadn’t been disabled for a number of the months for which he’d collected. They pointed to his numerous job applications.
The full commission heard the case and heard from several witnesses including the plaintiff and four doctors. The commission ultimately sided with the employer’s position, issuing a finding of fact that the worker hadn’t been disabled for months while he continued to collect. He was ordered to repay this amount. This decision was ultimately upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Although this case did not turn out well for the worker, there are many others where the courts been swayed in the other direction. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Constr., LLC, June 12, 2014, North Carolina Suprem Court
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Willard v. VP Builders – NC Appeals Court Upholds Worker Death Benefit Ruling, June 6, 2014, Charlotte Worker’s Compensation Lawyer Blog