A North Carolina employer has been ordered to pay workers’ compensation benefits to a worker whose shoulder injury was caused by a work accident. Not only that, but also the North Carolina Court of Appeals ordered the company to pay a 10 percent penalty for failing to file its request to terminate the plaintiff’s disability compensation with the industrial commission after her unsuccessful trial return to the job.
The plaintiff worked for the defendant employer as a tire builder. While pulling at a tire, she felt her right shoulder “pop.” She was examined by a physician, who determined she suffered a “SLAP” injury, which is an injury that affects the labrum, or the ring of cartilage surrounding the socket of the shoulder joint.
She filed a claim for benefits, and a deputy commissioner awarded the plaintiff benefits for the injury to her shoulder and found her entitled to payment of future necessary medical compensation related to her injury. That was in 2007. Three years later, the plaintiff suffered another injury at work to that same shoulder. Both sides agreed this was an exacerbation injury, meaning it was a continuance of the previous injury.
In 2012, a doctor opined the plaintiff had attained maximum medical improvement and permanently restricted her from carrying more than 45 pounds or lifting more than 25 pounds. However, the defendant couldn’t provide the plaintiff with a job that fit those restrictions, so she did not return to work.
Later that year, the plaintiff went to a doctor and reported shoulder pain after raking her yard.
In the year after that, the plaintiff went back to work on a trial basis and while lifting, felt her right shoulder pop again. She was diagnosed with tendinitis and was out of work again for several months, since the employer could not accommodate her new restrictions.
The plaintiff sought reinstatement of her previous temporary total disability benefits. The defendant challenged whether the current complaints resulting in work restrictions were actually due to the 2007 injury or to the lifting injury she suffered while raking her yard.
The deputy commissioner concluded there was not enough evidence to establish the plaintiff’s tendinitis was related to her earlier work injury. The full commission reversed this ruling, noting that while evidence of causation from the three physicians who testified was disputed, the defendant failed to rebut the presumption that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by work. Furthermore, the commission found the plaintiff’s attempted trial return to work was not successful, and the employer and its insurer should pay workers’ compensation benefits to her. The commission ruled TTD benefits should be paid until the plaintiff returned to work or until the commission ordered otherwise. The commission also imposed a 10 percent penalty for failing to immediately reinstate the plaintiff’s benefits when her trial run back to work failed. It denied the plaintiff’s request for reimbursement of attorney fees.
Both parties appealed, but the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed.
The court noted that while in a workers’ compensation claim, it is the employee who has the burden of proof in showing the claim is compensable, once that relationship is proven to exist, any additional medical treatment related to that injury is presumed to be covered by workers’ compensation. The burden is shifted to the employer to prove it’s not. In this case, the employer failed to rebut that presumption, the justices ruled.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Bell v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, March 21, 2017, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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