Here in North Carolina, workers cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits while incarcerated, a law that was established in 1992 by the North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Parker v. Union Camp Corp. The question in that case was whether the imprisonment of a person already receiving workers’ compensation disability payments cuts off the employer’s duty to make payments during the confinement period. It was at that juncture an issue of first impression for North Carolina. The court did note existing statutes indicated the legislative intent was to deny prisoners workers’ compensation benefits while they are locked up. Specifically, N.C.G.S. 97-13(c) holds the state’s workers’ compensation act doesn’t apply to prisoners being worked by the state. The statute allows the payment of limited benefits to prisoners, and it indicates that such benefits can’t begin until the prisoners’ discharge.
This provision has been challenged a few times, such as in the 2005 case of Easton v. J.D. Mowing. In that case, the plaintiff suffered a compensable work-related injury and was awarded $366 weekly until he was able to return to work. The plaintiff was then incarcerated for a probation violation for eight months. His employer sought to suspend those benefits while he was in prison, and the deputy commissioner granted that request. The Full Commission affirmed, as did the Court of Appeals, citing the Parker case.
Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals was again asked to weigh in on a case in which a worker’s disability payments were suspended during a period of incarceration. In Myles v. LMS, Inc., the plaintiff sustained a compensable injury. He was unloading a truck when the brake on the pallet jack failed, and the pallet pinned his leg, causing him to suffer a broken ankle. An orthopedic specialist performed surgery, which had to be followed up with a second surgery due to a complication. Then, he had to undergo a third surgery because it was revealed the first screw in his ankle was too long. The plaintiff had to wear a brace and could only do sedentary work with short periods of standing or walking.
The plaintiff received temporary total disability benefits in August 2002. Then, in February 2006, the plaintiff was imprisoned for a felony and sentenced to between eight and 10 years. His employer filed a form to terminate his indemnity (lost wages) benefits. This request was granted, citing the Parker case, although by that time, the employer had already paid $2,760 in indemnity benefits while the plaintiff was in prison.
After the plaintiff was released eight years later in August 2014, he sought to reinstate his temporary total disability benefits and obtain additional treatments for his ankle. The employer argued this request should be denied because the plaintiff failed to meet the burden of showing his disability was ongoing and that additional medical treatment was time-barred because it had been more than two years since he last received treatment for the work injury.
The deputy commissioner awarded the plaintiff TTD from the time he was released from prison until he returned to work, or as ordered by the commission. The defendants also had to pay for medical treatment. The full commission ruled the payment for medical compensation was time-barred. Furthermore, while the defendants should have resumed his wage loss benefits after he was released from prison, the commission also found the plaintiff had a duty to prove he was still disabled as a result of his work injury – and he hadn’t done that. Therefore, the plaintiff was ordered to receive indemnity benefits from the date of his release to the date the matter was heard (about four months), with the employer getting a credit for indemnity benefits it paid when he was first imprisoned.
The plaintiff appealed, but the appellate court affirmed.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Myles v. LMS Inc., Dec. 30, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
OSHA Eyes Safety at Dental Practices, Jan. 6, 2016, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog