O’Neal v. Inline Fluid Power, Inc. – Denial of Indemnity Benefits

About half of all workers’ compensation benefits paid in North Carolina are indemnity benefits. These are benefits paid to workers who are injured with the purpose of replacing or supplementing worker’s lost income.
Another term for indemnity benefits is “lost wages.” There are two basic types: Temporary and permanent. Temporary benefits are paid to supplement worker wages while the worker is recovering from his or her injury. This could be while worker is unable to work or while he or she returns part-time. Permanent indemnity benefits, meanwhile, are paid to workers who have reached maximum medical improvement and may have suffered permanent disability as a result of the work injury.

The amount of indemnity benefits an employee will receive will depend on the amount of the worker’s pay history prior to the injuries, and most jurisdictions allow for two-thirds of worker’s regular gross pay.

Recently, the case of O’Neal v. Inline Fluid Power, Inc., before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, dealt with the issue of indemnity benefits for a long-time auto company worker.

Plaintiff was 68-years-old. After working 18 years for a company that serviced diesel trucks and another four years changing tires and performing front-end alignment at an oil and tire shop, he began working for defendant company in 2006.He worked 40 hours weekly delivering auto parts, stocking inventory and doing some janitorial work.

In May 2011, while making a delivery of two long boxes, plaintiff was injured when one of those boxes tilted and suddenly fell on him, striking him on each side of his groin area.

The incident was immediately reported to employer, and a claim filed with insurer. He was seen by a physician, and at that time, plaintiff complained of back pain and hip pain on both sides. A week later, that pain in the right side of his hip radiated down to his ankle. He was given medication and underwent physical therapy and steroid injections, but he was ultimately ordered by his doctor not to work. With increasing pain, a hip surgery was in order, and he underwent this procedure in February 2012.

Worker immediately reported a great improvement. He could walk without assistance and do basic activities, though he still had trouble tying his own shoe. He could not return to work, he said, because he couldn’t get in and out of the truck, and there was no other light duty openings available.

He filed a claim for workers’ compensation. The company responded it would be medical only, and not indemnity benefits. Later, company denied the entire claim, asserting plaintiff failed to prove the hip and back injuries were related to the worker’s compensation claim.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission did find the hip and back injuries were causally related to the work-related groin injury, as that had aggravated existing conditions and required him to seek intensive treatment much sooner than he otherwise would have. Commissioner also awarded plaintiff temporary total disability,

Defendant appealed. Commissioned affirmed on the compensability of the hip replacement surgery and treatment, but determined plaintiff was not entitled to indemnity benefits after May 2012, which was when the doctor released plaintiff for light duty work (which, remember, his employer did not have available). However, the commission decided plaintiff could have looked for other work, siding with a vocational expert who determined there were available jobs that fit plaintiff’s restriction criteria.

Plaintiff appealed this, but the appellate court affirmed.

Many times, these cases are more complex than they appear on the surface. Our experienced worker’s compensation lawyers are here to help.

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

Additional Resources:
O’Neal v. Inline Fluid Power, Inc., May 19, 2015, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Timing of Reporting Workplace Injuries in South Carolina, June 26, 2015, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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