After a worker suffers an industrial accident in North Carolina, the support of family and loved ones is imperative. In some instances, it’s critical to recovery. Certain situations require that a spouse, parent, adult child or other person provide regular care to the person in question, in lieu of an at-home nurse. These are characterized as “attendant care services,” and if they are prescribed by a physician – either verbally or in writing – they can be compensable under workers’ compensation.
What this means is if your loved one needs to take weeks or months off work to care for you by assisting you with daily activities of living (i.e., bathing, wound care, toileting, dressing, eating, taking medication, maintaining the house/ household chores, etc.), then that individual can be compensated based on whatever the going rate is for attendant services. They may not be reimbursed what their normal rate of pay is in their typical job, but it can help to defray the costs of wage loss as a result of their taking a leave through the Family Medical Leave Act.
A recent case before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, involved reimbursement for attendant care given by a wife to her husband following a work accident. The question was not whether she should be reimbursed, but rather for how long.
According to court records, defendant employer operates a paper mill plant in Riegelwood, near the coastline north of Wilmington. Plaintiff started working there in 2005, and one of his jobs was helping to operate and oversee the process of wood chips being cooked down into paper. One day in February 2012 while he was working, he was called in to inspect a malfunctioning piece of equipment. As he did so, a mixture of chemical and pulp sprayed him. Despite his immediate effort to turn and run, he still suffered severe burns on a quarter of his body.
Plaintiff was first transported to a nearby hospital, but was later transferred to a specialized burn center, where he stayed for several months.
After he was discharged from the burn center, his doctors verbally stated that he would need attendant care. His wife, a social worker, extended her Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to offer additional attendant care to her husband over the three months that followed. This included changing his dressings twice daily, an ordeal that took an hour each time.
As time wore on, plaintiff needed less and less attendant care, but his doctor indicated he would need some level of attendant care for life as a result of his work-related injuries.
The deputy commissioner found that all attendant care provided by plaintiff’s wife was compensable at a rate of $9.25 hourly for six hours each day (or $55.50 a day). The commission later affirmed this award, except issued a cut-off date of December 2012.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing that while the level of care he needed was less than what he needed immediately after his release from the burn center, defendant hadn’t proven that plaintiff had gained sufficient independence to no longer require attendant care after that point.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals considered that the commission appeared to give the greatest weight to the written directive from the social worker that plaintiff needed attendant care through December 2012. His physician hadn’t issued a written prescription for such care beyond that. However, the statute does not require that such directives be issued in writing. Here, there was other evidence in the record indicating plaintiff’s need for attendant care extended beyond the date cited by the commission.
Thus, the commission’s ruling was reversed, with the court remanding the case for an amended opinion that would reflect the need for attendant care beyond the 2012 date.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.