North Carolina Appellate Court Vacates Finding of No Disability in Work Injury Case

Workers’ compensation claims can be incredibly confusing. The system is not always straightforward, and it can be difficult to know whether you are receiving the treatment that you deserve. At Maurer Law, we provide compassionate and diligent legal counsel to individuals throughout North Carolina who may have been hurt at work. We understand how frustrating this experience may be for you and your family. Contact us today to begin learning about how our Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers can assist you with your claim.

A recent workers’ compensation case discussed a few key procedural rules and determinations. The plaintiff in the case appealed a decision from the workers’ compensation commission stating that it erred in determining that he was not disabled and that his post-injury job was suitable employment. The plaintiff worked as a pipe fitter for many years. He was operating a scissor lift at work when the equipment malfunctioned causing him to be thrown. He returned to work after his injury but was restricted to light duty work and was unable to drive while taking his prescribed pain medication. After two years of treatment, the plaintiff was assigned permanent work restrictions including being prohibited from lifting more than 20 pounds, being required to alternate between sitting and standing, and wearing a brace while working.

The plaintiff was put on “helper” positions and he filed a Form 33 “Request for a Hearing” to determine whether his jobs were suitable. The commissioner presiding at the hearing concluded that the plaintiff did not meet his burden of proving that he was disabled and therefore the question of whether his employment was suitable was not discussed. His request for total and temporary partial disability benefits was denied. The Full Commission affirmed this finding and the plaintiff appealed again.

The appellate court ultimately affirmed some of the Commission’s findings but remanded the case for more findings based on the Commission’s improper determination of whether the employee was disabled. It first concluded that the plaintiff did not make a reasonable but unsuccessful effort to obtain employment, which is a component of proving that someone is disabled. But factual questions remained regarding whether the plaintiff’s position was suitable employment or “make work,” which is a position that has been so altered that it would not be normally available on the market. Specifically, the Commission failed to address whether the plaintiff’s position exists at other employers. Without this analysis, it was impossible for the appellate court to determine whether the plaintiff was offered suitable employment.

Next, the appellate court disagreed with the Commission’s determination that the employee failed to establish any evidence of futility. An employee can meet the burden of showing disability by proving that the employee is capable of some work but that it would be futile because of the conditions that he or she suffers like lack of education. Based on the record, the plaintiff offered some evidence to show that futility may apply to his situation.

If you were hurt at work, you probably have questions about whether you can seek compensation for your injuries through the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. We understand how daunting this can seem and will provide you with the attentive and knowledgeable legal counsel that you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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