North Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Denial of Petition to Discontinue Benefits

If you think a judge made a mistake in your North Carolina workers’ compensation claim, you can file an appeal to have a higher court review the decision. There are different rules that apply on appeals, and the standard that the court must use to review the lower court’s decision can change depending on the circumstance. Ensuring that you put forth the strongest appeal possible and that the appellate court applies the right standard of review is a key aspect of securing the benefits that you deserve.

In a recent claim, the worker suffered neck and spinal injuries while employed with a trucking company as a driver. Her employer and its workers’ compensation insurer appealed a decision from a lower court denying its request to terminate her temporary total disability benefits. Specifically, the employer and insurer alleged that the lower court erred in concluding that the worker was disabled after her doctor released her in December 2015 to “return to full activities.”

The appellate court began by noting the standard of review that it must apply, which is to review findings of fact to determine whether “any competent evidence supports the Commission’s findings … and whether the findings of fact support the Commission’s conclusions of law.”

In workers’ compensation cases under North Carolina law, the worker has the burden of showing that he or she is suffering from a disability, which is the incapacity to earn the same level of wages because of the injury. Reviewing the record of evidence, the appellate court concluded that the lower court relied on sufficient facts to support its finding that the employee remained disabled as the result of a work injury. Mainly, it noted that the December 2015 release was a qualified release that did not account for the physical limitations that the worker may have continued to experience.

As far as being released to return to full activities, the doctor who made this medical conclusion indicated that he had not assessed whether the worker was capable of performing the duties of a truck driver. Rather, the doctor said he would leave it up to the Department of Transportation to conclude whether she could safely operate a truck. Also, the doctor testified that he released the worker to return to activities that she felt she was capable of performing at her own discretion. While the release did not contain specific work restrictions, the doctor’s report and testimony supported the lower court’s finding that she remained disabled.

The employer and insurer also challenged the lower court’s finding that the worker’s search to find comparable employment had been reasonable. The lower court found that the worker had looked for jobs within fields where she had experience and that she had requested vocational rehabilitation to pursue other types of employment, but that her request had been denied by the defendants. The record also showed that she had applied for 19 trucking jobs and that she was willing to submit to physical examinations for each.

If you were hurt on the job and are facing challenges to your benefit award from your employer and/or employer’s insurer, contact our seasoned team of North Carolina work injury lawyers today to protect your right to compensation. We have assisted countless injured workers throughout the region and are well-versed in the rules that apply to the claims process. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 844-817-8058 or contact us online to get started.

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