North Carolina Appellate Court Upholds Reinstatement of Benefits for Injured Truck Driver

Work injuries are incredibly stressful and disruptive for the victim, especially if it is unclear whether you will be able to return to work. The seasoned North Carolina work injury lawyers at Maurer Law have handled many different types of injuries on behalf of hard-working individuals and we are ready to use our skills and experience on your behalf.

The North Carolina appellate court recently considered a claim in which the worker suffered injuries to her neck and spine while working as a truck driver, which required her to maintain a Class A commercial license. Obtaining this license requires the applicant to undergo a medical examination on a periodic basis. She injured her back and spine while operating the landing gear on her vehicle. The company told her that there was no light duty work available. Eventually, the Industrial Commission concluded that she had suffered a work-related injury and she was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.

The woman underwent treatment for her injuries, including a surgical procedure. She was unable to work for several weeks after the surgery. Her treating physician testified that her injury would affect her for the rest of her life, in terms of her ability to move and lift heavy objects. He did indicate that she was able to return to full activities. He prescribed her Vicodin as needed and referred her to the DMV or federal Department of Transportation to determine whether she could return to truck driving.

Her employer asked if she could return to work and she indicated that she was still taking medication and unable to drive. The employer terminated her on the basis that she had been released with no restrictions and also sought an order terminating her disability benefits. The order was granted and the woman appealed. She provided evidence showing that she applied to 19 trucking companies and that she was denied an interview each time because of her condition and the fact that she still took Vicodin for the pain. She filed a motion to compel vocational rehabilitation so that she could train for another field, but the Commission denied the request and she appealed. The reviewing deputy commissioner reinstated her benefits and ordered the defendants to pay any missed payments. The employer appealed.

On review, the appellate court noted the narrow standard of review that applies to fact-finding by the Commission, which requires a reviewing court to uphold a decision if there is any competent evidence supporting the findings. The employer challenged the Commission’s finding that the woman was disabled after she was released. Disability is defined under North Carolina law as incapacity because of an injury to earn wages that the employee was receiving at the time of the injury or any other employment. The appellate court concluded that although she had been released to full activities without specific work restrictions, there was enough evidence to support a finding that the release focused on the progress of her healing and in no way indicated that she was free of any injury-related restrictions. Based on similar findings, the appellate court upheld the reinstatement of benefits.

If you were hurt at work or currently involved in a workers’ compensation claim, we are ready to help you fight for the outcome that you deserve. To schedule your free consultation to learn more about our legal team and our services, call us at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online.

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