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.