Employer's bid to dole out responsibility for worker's disability falls flat
Hatley v. Continental General Tire NA, No. COA09-971 (N.C. Ct. App. 04/06/10).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld an award of temporary total disability benefits to a tire inspector. The worker presented enough evidence to establish a disability resulting from a workplace accident, and that any apportionment between workplace and non-workplace injuries would have required a speculative conclusion.
What it means: The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act requires workers seeking benefits to prove that they are impaired and that their disability resulted from a workplace injury. Where doctors' opinions do not indicate how much of a worker's disability was caused by the workplace injury, apportionment is improper because it is too speculative.
Summary: A tire inspector injured his left hand at work when a tire blew out and slammed his hand into a metal rim. He sought medical care, and was placed on temporary, light-duty restrictions. After his restrictions timed out, the inspector returned to his regular work. When he reported increased problems with his hand, his employer told him he must perform his duties or retire. He retired, but began working as a teacher's assistant six months later. The Court of Appeals upheld the Industrial Commission's award of TTD benefits for the six months he was not working.
The employer argued that it was not responsible for the inspector's entire disability because some of his symptoms were not caused by the workplace accident. The court noted that none of the doctors testified as to the portion of disability attributable to the workplace accident. In the absence of clear medical evidence regarding the percentage of disability resulting from non-workplace conditions, "any attempt to apportion plaintiff's injury would have been speculative and improper," the court said.
The employer also argued unsuccessfully that the inspector failed to prove that he was disabled. It pointed to a doctor's decision to release the inspector from all restrictions prior to his retirement. However, another doctor did not lift the light-duty restrictions he had imposed until two months after the inspector began his teacher's assistant job. The commission was entitled to give the second doctor's opinion greater weight and, as a result, conclude that his opinion adequately established the inspector's disability.
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June 10, 2010
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