Fields v. H&E Equipment Services LLC – Importance of Expert Witness Testimony

Certain matters of fact in a workers’ compensation lawsuit may require special explanation by an expert witness. These matters can range from injury causation to extent of injury to the types of treatments deemed reasonably necessary.
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In the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Fields v. H&E Equipment Services LLC, the issue was the employee’s inability to find other work.

This may not seem a highly technical issue on the surface, but it can be when the court is comparing the types of injuries a worker sustained to the kinds of jobs available that he or she can reasonably do.

Our Charlotte workers’ compensation attorneys recognize the complexities of these cases. We ensure we have both the knowledge and resources necessary to meet our client’s proof burden in order to secure benefits.

In the Fields case, the court determined plaintiff did not provide sufficient proof in the form of expert witness testimony to prove his inability to find work was a direct result of his work injury.

Court records indicate worker was a mechanic for defendant for more than a decade. His daily job involved a great deal of physical labor, and he was regularly required to stoop and lift 40 pounds or more.

Starting in 2006, worker began to see doctor for back pain. The visits escalated and five years later, he was seeing the doctor regularly for back pain and leg pain. Doctor prescribed pain medication and medicine to relax his muscles. He was also placed on a fitness regimen and work restrictions that instructed him to lift no more than 25 pounds. Physician also noted patient likely had degenerative disc disease, which would worsen over time regardless of his work.

In 2012, worker injured his back while taking a 45-pound battery out of a vehicle. This was in violation of the doctor’s lifting restrictions. The sting in his back worsened and he ultimately went to the emergency room for pain.

Defense covered the cost of these visits, but after his hospital discharge, he continued to seek treatment from his original doctor. His condition worsened. He could not return to work. The doctor would later indicate plaintiff’s pre-existing condition was more than likely aggravated by his work injury. Surgery is the likely next step.

Plaintiff sought workers’ compensation coverage, but was denied on grounds he had not sustained injury from a specific traumatic incident.Commissioner found plaintiff had ongoing disability and awarded temporary total disability benefits.Full commission affirmed, and defendant then appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

That court reversed.

Although commission ruled it was “futile” for plaintiff to seek competitive work due to doctor’s restrictions, defendants alleged plaintiff had the burden to prove existence of disability and extent. In order to do that, plaintiff has to show he’s incapable of earning the same wages in the same employment or that he’s incapable of earning the same wages in any other employment.

There was no question he could not work in the same line of work with the doctor’s restrictions, and as a result of his injury. But there was no evidence presented indicating he had tried and could not secure employment elsewhere. Granted, he did have a 10th grade education and only limited computer skills.

But he had provided no proof that he couldn’t work elsewhere, and that was a key element necessary to prove his claim. .

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

Additional Resources:
Fields v. H&E Equipment Services LLC, April 21, 2015, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries
Worker Killed in Anderson, South Carolina, May 17, 2015, Charlotte Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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