Sevy v. SVL Analytical – Asserting Total Permanent Disability

Permanent total disability benefits in North Carolina are only awarded in limited circumstances. Those who qualify may be entitled to a lifetime of disability benefits, but the criteria is strict. catscan

For a worker hurt prior to June 24, 2011, permanent total disability benefits may be paid upon determination that worker is unable to ever find suitable employment due to work injury. However, workers injured after that date have to show they have one of the following conditions:

  • Loss of both hands, both arms, both feet, both legs, both eyes or any combination of any two listed body parts;
  • Spinal injury involving paralysis of both legs, both arms or the trunk;
  • Severe closed head or brain injuries;
  • Second-degree or third-degree burns on 33 percent or more of the total body surface.

Many states have similar Рand increasingly strict Рcriteria for permanent total disability benefits. 

One example of this was recently seen in the Idaho Supreme Court case of Sevy v. SVL Analytical, Inc., where a worker with limited education and job skill worked preparing soil samples. This generally involved moving and lifting bags and buckets of soil and other debris.

Prior to this, she had suffered a number of other accidents and injuries. At age 17, she suffered a shoulder injury due to a car crash. In 2000, she suffered a fracture of a T12 compression as a result of a sled-riding accident. Four years later, she suffered another fracture when she fell from a scooter.

After the scooter accident, which required surgery, she continued to have pain and, in order to do her job, received assistance from other workers and, rather than lift heavy items, slid them across the floor and used a stick with a hook to drag bags and buckets.

A doctor who examined her in 2005 indicated that her ongoing pain was likely the result of degenerative disc disease. She was put on light-duty work in shipping and given lighter samples to move, as well as data entry assignments.

The following year, while at work, she tripped over a co-worker’s dog (workers were allowed to bring their dogs to the office at this location). A scan revealed she suffered a C5-6 fracture of an earlier fusion and she needed to undergo yet another surgery.

She continued to suffer pain, and although doctor did not deem her “disabled,” did restrict her lifting to between 20 and 40 pounds. Eventually, this was modified to no more than 8 pounds, and her physician recommended sedentary work.

Her employer would later inform her there was no work available with her significant functional limitations.

Due to her limited education and skill, there wasn’t much work out there in the job market.

In weighing a claim for permanent total disability benefits, the workers’ compensation commission took this into consideration, but noted the bulk of her injuries were not work-related. It didn’t help that several physicians who evaluated her testified they did not believe she was totally disabled.

The commission concluded that because of the totality of her injuries and limited marketability in the labor force, she was “profoundly disabled” – probably in the neighborhood of 50 to 75 percent. However, she had failed to prove she was 100 percent disabled. Further, she didn’t meet the criteria under the “odd-lot doctrine,” which grants workers total disability status – even if they aren’t totally disabled – if there is no reasonably dependable market for his or her skills.

Thus, she was denied permanent total disability benefits.

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

Additional Resources:

Sevy v. SVL Analytical, Inc., Dec. 22, 2015, Idaho Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Rhame v. Charleston County – Repetitive Trauma Work Injury Claim Within Statutory Limitations, Jan. 4, 2015, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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