If you have suffered either a North Carolina work-related injury or an occupational disease or illness, you need to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits as soon as possible. It will cover not just the immediate expenses, but those that may develop in the future, including lost wages and medical bills.
Unfortunately, too many workers try to “tough it out” when it comes to job-related illness. It’s one thing to have a workplace accident that causes immediate and serious injury requiring timely medical intervention. But when injuries occur over time, it can be tougher to ascertain when it’s best to come forward.
In general, it’s advised that you report pain/ discomfort/ injury/ illness to your employer as soon as possible and explore filing a workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible. In North Carolina, the law only allows two years from the date of injury to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Recently, the case of Rainey v. Charlotte, before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, offered a good example of how employees can lose out on important workers’ compensation benefits if they don’t file soon enough.
According to court records, plaintiff went to the doctor in May 2000 for shoulder and knee pain. He told him at that time his job required heavy use of shoulders to break down tires. The doctor diagnosed him with severe osteoarthritis in his right shoulder. The doctor recommended surgery in the near future and the need to modify his work.
The employee, though, turned down surgery and continued to work in his same job. However, his shoulder pain persisted.
In December 2009, he was forced to quit when the shoulder pain got so bad, he could no longer do his job.
In October 2012, he visited with another doctor for severe shoulder pain. He told him the pain stretched back 12 years and had gotten worse in recent months. The physician diagnosed him with end-stage arthritis and referred him to surgery.
Plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim in November 2012, asserting occupational disease in his shoulder.
However, the deputy commissioner and later the full commission determined plaintiff had waited too long to file his claim. It should have been filed within two years of his original diagnosis. For this reason, the commission dismissed it due to lack of jurisdiction.
The sole issue was whether plaintiff filed the claim within the two-year statute of limitations.
N.C.G.S. 97-58(c) holds that claimants with occupational disease have two years from the time they receive notice that they have an occupational diseases by a competent medical authority in which to file a claim.
The commission determined plaintiff was given adequate notice by his doctor in 2000. Plaintiff contends, however, that was only for his right shoulder – not his left shoulder. However, a deposition by the doctor indicated the doctor had recommended replacement surgery for both shoulders. The appeals court concluded based on this and other evidence the worker was adequately informed of his occupational illness in 2000.
The next question was when the plaintiff became “disabled.” The commission concluded plaintiff became disabled on the date of his retirement, which is when he was no longer able to work. Plaintiff argued that retirement was irrelevant, and it wasn’t until his doctor imposed medical restrictions on him in 2012 that he was actually disabled.
However, the court determined that even without medical restrictions, an employee’s own testimony as to his/ her pain and ability to work is competent evidence that may establish disability.
The commission’s ruling was affirmed.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Rainey v. Charlotte, May 17, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Koprowski v. Baker et al – Workers’ Compensation for Prisoners? May 11, 2016, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog