When it comes to workers’ compensation claims in North Carolina, injured workers seeking temporary total disability need to show they are incapable of returning to work in the pre-injury job because the job requirements exceed the injury-related work restrictions, and the plaintiff has made reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to obtain suitable employment.
The requirement goes back to the term “disability” as it is understood in the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, which is the incapacity to earn wages because of the work-related injury. Thus, for the state industrial commission to find an injured worker should receive workers’ compensation for loss of capacity to earn wages, it first has to find the worker was not capable after the injury of earning the same money as before in the same job, was not capable after the injury of earning the same money as before in a different job, and lacked the capacity to earn these wages due to the work injury.
Plaintiffs can demonstrate this through a number of methods, as the North Carolina Court of Appeals noted in one recent case:
- Offer up medical evidence showing a physical or mental incapacity to work as a result of the work injury;
- Offer up evidence showing that they have the capability to do some work, but despite reasonable efforts to obtain employment, those efforts have been unsuccessful;
- Offer up evidence indicating a capability to do some work, with evidence this effort would be futile, due to other preexisting conditions like inexperience, lack of education, etc.; or
- Offer up evidence they have landed another job earning less than before.
The recent case referenced prior case law, including the appellate court’s 1993 decision of Russell v. Lowes Prod. Distribution and the more recent 2014 case of Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Constr.
In the matter most recently before the court, the plaintiff started working for a tire company in 1985, most recently as a tire builder at a plant in Cumberland County. The job involved transferring tires from a truck to an inflation stand and often lifting objects weighing up to 60 pounds.
On one day in October 2013, the plaintiff suffered a back injury while attempting to pull a tire that was stuck. He reported the injury to his supervisor and was sent to the on-site medical provider to get treatment. Although he returned to work that day, he sought medical treatment after his shift because the sharp, constant back pain got worse.
The plaintiff continued to receive treatment over the course of several weeks.
A doctor released him to return to work with restrictions that he not lift more than 25 pounds or engage in repetitive bending. The plaintiff went to work but was not allowed to work his shift due to the restrictions and was sent home.
In January 2014, the plaintiff filed a notice of accident and requested a hearing for workers’ compensation benefits.
A deputy commissioner concluded the plaintiff’s injuries were compensable, and the plaintiff had proven he was disabled and entitled to compensation. The defendant appealed to the full commission, which affirmed with modifications. Specifically, the commission found he was incapable of employment due to work restrictions and met the burden for temporary total disability by proving he couldn’t return to work in his pre-injury job, and the plaintiff had made unsuccessful but reasonable efforts to obtain employment.
The defendant appealed solely on that last point, arguing this finding was not supported by the record.
The appeals court, however, affirmed, finding there was evidence in this case to support the claimant’s assertion of reasonable efforts. The court did note, though, that an employer’s failure to provide light duty work in and of itself is not proof that an injured employee made a reasonable but unsuccessful effort to find employment.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Snyder v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Sept. 21, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Permanent Disability Under Scheduled-Member Statute Isn’t Barred by Gainful Employment, March 27, 2017, Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog