Specialist's trip to Africa, unwillingness to pursue employment block benefits
Case name: Price v. Mental Health Assoc., No. COA10-1366 (N.C. Ct. App. 08/02/11).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a specialist was not entitled to disability benefits.
What it means: In North Carolina, a worker's failure to show she made a reasonable effort to seek employment will undermine a claim for disability benefits.
A program specialist for a mental health association was rolling a patient's wheelchair through a gravel parking lot when the wheelchair became stuck. When the specialist attempted to dislodge the wheelchair, she suffered a lumbosacral strain. The association conceded that the injury was compensable. She was placed on light-duty status. Later, the specialist resigned from her position, stating that she planned to enter into a position more aligned with her education, experiences, and financial considerations. She did not mention her injury or difficulty performing her duties as reasons for leaving her employment. She worked a new position for one month. A regional coordinator for the association asked her to return, but she said she could not perform the duties of the position. She sought disability benefits. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that she was not entitled to disability benefits.
The court pointed out that the specialist's doctor opined that she was capable of performing modified work and that she was physically capable of performing several jobs for which she was qualified. Throughout the workers' compensation proceedings, the specialist operated a ministry and provided counseling services at her home. Also, the specialist took a trip to Africa, where she visited three countries, and spoke at churches and a women's conference and met with leaders and pastors.
The specialist argued that she made a reasonable vocational effort to find employment. The court disagreed, stating that applying for three jobs in 27 months was not a reasonable vocational effort. Also, evidence showed that the specialist was unwilling to pursue any employment other than as a chaplain, although it required training.
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September 30, 2011
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