Wilkes v. Greenville – On-the-Job Car Accident

A landscaping worker employed by the North Carolina city of Greenville, about 2.5 hours east of Greensboro, was injured while driving a city truck. A third-party driver ran a red light and crashed into him. The force of the collision caused his truck to collide with a tree, breaking the windshield and causing the airbags to deploy with force.
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Plaintiff was transported to a local hospital and treated for bruises on his head, broken ribs and a number of injuries to his pelvis, neck, back and hip. An MRI revealed a concussion, but he was discharged from the hospital the next day.

That was five years ago. The issue of his workers’ compensation benefits has been an ongoing one, recently weighed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Wilkes v. Greenville. Plaintiff recently appealed a finding by the North Carolina Industrial Commission indicating his injuries weren’t work-related and that he was no longer entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits. The appellate court reversed in part, vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings.

Although the employer never disputed that the accident was work-related, it did early on challenge plaintiff’s regarding the totality of his injuries.

A deputy commissioner determined that plaintiff’s low back pain, knee pain, depression, anxiety, sleep disorder, ringing in his ears, headaches and joint paint were all causally related to his injuries. Defendant employer was ordered to pay all medical expenses related to these conditions. Further,the commissioner found that while plaintiff was capable of doing some work, it was pointless for him to seek work at the time because of the fact he was in his mid-60s, had an IQ of 65, his education and reading level were at a grade-two level, he had a previous history of manual labor jobs and the injuries he suffered as a result of his compensable injury. He could only do sedentary work, and there wasn’t anything available, given those other factors, that he could do.

Defendant appealed, and the full commission reversed the award. Commission ruled plaintiff failed to show that his depression and anxiety were due to the work-related accident, and also that he’d failed to present enough evidence to show his job search would most likely be fruitless.

Plaintiff appealed. First, he argued commission was wrong in not applying a presumption of causation, as laid forth in Parsons v. Pantry, Inc. when he sought additional treatment for depression and anxiety.The Parsons presumption allows for coverage of additional medical treatment for the work-related injury – even when it’s not the precise injury that was originally deemed covered – and it requires the employer bear the burden of proof to show it’s not covered.

The appeals court didn’t make any determination about whether his anxiety and/or depression was causally related to the accident or should be covered, only that the commission applied the wrong standard.

However on the issue of temporary total disability benefits, the appeals court found plaintiff had met his proof burden. He presented evidence that he’d spent nine years prior to the accident employed as a landscaper and he’d done medium-to-heavy labor positions his whole adult life. He didn’t have a high school degree, he had trouble reading and writing, his IQ was in the “impaired” range and he was physically incapable of doing the job he previously did. Therefore, his workers’ compensation benefits should continue.

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

Additional Resources:
Wilkes v. Greenville, Oct. 2, 2015, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Large Study on Brain Injury Yields New Data about Recovery, Oct. 5, 2015, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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