Lack of return to work release from physician fails to prove disability
Case name: Newnam v. New Hanover Regional Medical Center, No. COA10-905 (N.C. Ct. App. 06/07/11).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a technologist was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
What it means: In North Carolina, a finding that a physician never released an injured worker to return to work is insufficient to establish disability.
Summary: A MRI technologist reported to her employer that she experienced pain in her right shoulder, trapezius, and arm, as well as bilateral hand numbness, cramping, and tingling. An occupational therapist performed an ergonomic assessment of her work stations and recommended changes. The technologist subsequently sought treatment and was diagnosed with moderate bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. The technologist underwent injection therapy and surgery. The surgery was successful but the technologist's treating physician did not release her to return to work. The technologist sought benefits. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that she was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
A physical therapist who performed an ergonomic analysis opined that the technologist's work stations increased her pressure in her carpal tunnel. The technologist's treating physician did not release her at maximum medical improvement or assign her a disability rating after surgery. The physician also said that the technologist's employment put her at a greater risk of contracting bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome that the general population. The court said the treating physician was in the best position to understand her job duties. However, the physician's failure to release the technologist to return to work was not sufficient to establish disability.
The court explained that the technologist was required to present medical evidence that she was physically or mentally unable to work in any employment as a result of her work-related injury. She did not present such evidence. A post-surgical report by the physician stated that she was doing "very well." The report did not state that she was excused from performing work duties or that she was incapable of work in any employment.
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July 18, 2011
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