When a worker sustains an on-the-job injury, he or she is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of whether the injury involves the aggravation of a pre-existing condition. So long as the aggravating injury occurred at work, the incident is compensable.
Of course, there may be exceptions, as the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Purcell v. Friday Staffing reveals. As our Charlotte work injury lawyers understand it, the biggest issue was not whether the employee’s injuries were job-related. However, her alleged concealment of a prior work injury before securing the second job, where the second injury occurred, meant she forfeited her benefits.
According to court records in the Purcell case, the worker reportedly sustained a serious injury to her back while working for a printing company. She was treated with surgery, and initially restricted from engaging in any kind of bending, lifting, stooping or twisting. After a while, she was rated to have a 7 percent partial disability to her back.She was to continue physical therapy and restrict her lifting to prevent further degeneration of her condition. She was encouraged by her doctor to find sedentary work.
She signed a settlement agreement with her employer, where she was paid $50,000. That agreement made it clear both parties knew the injury caused possibly permanent damage, and there was no dispute recovery was uncertain and indefinite.
Subsequently, she obtained employment in several other positions for other companies. She continued to receive treatment during this time. In 2007, she met with a doctor for increased back pain, and she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. The following year, she was referred to a neurosurgeon, who indicated she might need back surgery.
In May 2010, the worker sought employment placement with a staffing company. An employment questionnaire inquires about medical history, and indicates essential functions of the job involved lifting more than 50 pounds, carrying more than 50 pounds, frequent pulling, bending, pushing, kneeling, squatting, twisting and standing and sitting for extended periods. The plaintiff indicated she was physically fit to do all of these things. She also indicated she had never before filed a workers’ compensation claim, suffered a work-related injury or undergone surgery for back ailments.
Clearly, this was untrue.
The staffing company subsequently placed her with an auto parts manufacturer as an assembly line worker. The job required frequently lifting and carrying.
Unsurprisingly, her previous back injury was aggravated at work. She was rendered unable to continue working.
She again filed for workers’ compensation, but her claim was denied on the grounds she had misrepresented her prior injury to her employer.
The company argued it relied on her false representation, and this reliance was a substantial factor in its decision to hire her. It cited N.C. Gen. Stat. 97.12-1, which holds no compensation is allowed for an occupational injury or disease if the employer can prove that, at the time of hire, the worker knowingly or willfully made a false representation as to his or her physical condition, and the employer relied on this representation as a substantial factor in hiring and further there was a causal connection between the false representation and the employee’s injury or work-related disease.
The plaintiff agreed the employer had proven the first two elements, but argued the court erred in finding a causal connection between her misrepresentation and the subsequent injury.
The court found she was exceeding her previously-set work restrictions at the time of the second incident. Thus the court found the employer met its burden of proof in meeting all three standard elements for a workers’ compensation exception under the statute.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Purcell v. Friday Staffing, Aug. 5, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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