A nursing home food worker suffered an injury in a slip-and-fall accident at work. Although she was initially granted workers’ compensation benefits for medical treatment and time off work, she was later able to return to work without restrictions. But when the nursing home was bought by another company, it switched food service contractors – and the plaintiff couldn’t get a job with the new company due to her criminal background.
Following the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s denial of workers’ compensation benefits for disability and the treatment of certain medical conditions, the plaintiff in Reece v. Sodexo, Inc. appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. But the appellate panel found that competent medical evidence in the record supported the findings of fact made by the commission.
The evidence weighed by the commission generally showed that the plaintiff started working for the food service employer in 2006. She worked there for seven years before the work accident. Her job title required her to cook and serve food, wash dishes, and help with other kitchen duties. Her job required her to sometimes lift up to 50 pounds, and she often had to remove or replace heavy items on shelves or above her head.
Her injury occurred in February 2013, when she slipped and fell on a wet floor, landing on her left knee, arm, and hand. She was transported to the hospital emergency room and was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff as well as a sprained wrist and bruised knee. She later visited a family doctor, who restricted her to five pounds of lifting, 10 pounds of pulling and pushing, and no reaching above the shoulder. When she returned three months later, she reported her shoulder injury felt “80 percent better,” and she didn’t indicate the knee or wrist was hurting her any longer.
Two months later, though, she reported numbness in her elbow and hand and thumb. Some of these issues were attributed to pre-existing arthritis. The full commission would later determine the plaintiff reached maximum medical improvement with a 22 percent partial impairment to her arm by March 2014. The plaintiff did still complain of pain in her shoulder, but a functional capacity exam wasn’t ordered by her doctor because she was, by that time, functioning and doing her job.
But the following month, the nursing home was sold. The new contractor switched vendors, and the plaintiff was out of a job when that company declined to hire her. She would later say that, “In my own mind, I don’t believe nobody will hire me in the shape that I’m in now.” She filed a form for reinstatement of disability compensation, citing her knee, wrist, and thumb injuries. That request was denied.
She sought a second opinion due to pain and other problems with her shoulder. The company didn’t object to that, but the plaintiff initially couldn’t find a doctor willing to do the exam for the payment authorized. The commission determined additional medical treatment was reasonable and necessary for the plaintiff’s shoulder, but it denied benefits for further treatment of her other ailments, citing a doctor’s opinion that they were owing to “normal wear and tear.” The commission further held that the plaintiff did not do enough to show it would be futile for her to attempt to find employment, especially since her doctor hadn’t assigned her any work restrictions.
The plaintiff appealed, but the industrial commission affirmed this denial of further workers’ compensation benefits.
The takeaway from this case is that workers’ compensation benefits are not automatic or easily kept. Employers and insurers will fight at every turn to deny claims. You must be prepared and seek experienced legal representation.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Reece v. Sodexo Inc., Dec. 30, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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Bockus v. First Student Services – Bus Driver Back Injury, Jan. 9, 2016, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog