North Carolina Court Holds Injured Worker Not Entitled to Reinstatement of Benefits Following Incarceration

There are many rules that apply to the workers’ compensation process and that can affect your right to recover benefits. This is why it is critical to consult with an experienced and competent North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. A recent appellate opinion demonstrates the impact that some of these rules can have on your right to recovery.

The plaintiff suffered serious injuries on the job when he was unloading a truck and a pallet jack failed, causing a pallet to fall and pin the plaintiff’s leg. He suffered a broken ankle and required surgery to address the problem. The surgery did not successfully resolve all of the plaintiff’s injuries. Further examination noted that the screw used in the first surgery was too long so another doctor removed and replaced it. Additional examination suggested that the plaintiff required a third surgery, but he stated that he did not want to undergo another procedure. He was provided with a brace for his ankle at this time.

Sometime thereafter, the plaintiff was released by the doctor as having reached maximum medical improvement with some restrictions, including sedentary work only and short periods of walking and standing. He was also assigned a 15% permanent partial impairment for his ankle injury.

The defendant employer accepted liability for the injuries and paid temporary total disability benefits. A few years later, the defendant was sentenced to a term of 8 to 10 years in prison for a felony. The employer filed an application to terminate their duty to pay benefits based on his incarceration, and the request was approved. The plaintiff served 8 years in prison, and upon his release sought reinstatement of the benefit payments for total disability benefits and for medical treatment to address his ankle. The defendants refused to accept the application, arguing that it should be denied because the plaintiff failed to show that he suffered an ongoing disability and because his claim for additional medical treatment was barred.

A hearing took place on the issue, and the Special Deputy Commissioner denied the plaintiff’s request for benefit payments and medical treatment. The plaintiff appealed, seeking a full evidentiary hearing. At the conclusion of this hearing, the plaintiff was awarded temporary total disability benefits from his release until he returned to work, as well as payment for medical treatment. The defendant appealed.

On review, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff’s request for additional medical treatment was time-barred by North Carolina statutes because he did not seek medical treatment until more than two years after the last payment. Additionally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that he was entitled to reinstatement of his disability benefits because he failed to meet his burden of proof to establish his disability. Specifically, the appellate court noted that the plaintiff failed to make a reasonable search for work to show that he was incapable of securing employment.

If you were hurt on the job, you deserve diligent and committed legal counsel. As North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers, we have seen just how stressful it can be to ensure that you are receiving the full amount of benefits that you deserve. This is especially true where insurance companies are involved, which don’t always have your best interests in mind. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about our team and how we can assist you in securing the compensation that you deserve. Call us now at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online.

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