Worker's reasonable efforts to obtain employment assist claim for benefits
Case name: Johnson v. Rent-a-Center, Inc., No. 27145 (S.C. 07/18/12).
Ruling: The South Carolina Supreme Court held that a worker was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
What it means: In South Carolina, a worker is entitled to disability benefits if she failed to obtain employment because of a work injury and she made reasonable efforts to obtain employment.
Summary: A worker was struck by a dresser weighing more than 200 pounds while she was moving it from the back of a truck. The worker injured her neck, shoulders, and chest. Her doctors placed her on work restrictions, and the employer paid total disability benefits. During the time she was not working, the worker obtained her certification as a certified nursing assistant and a phlebotomist. She was released to return to work without restrictions. The employer offered the worker her previous position, but she turned it down because she would have been paired with the same coworker who she thought caused the accident. The employer offered her another position in another city, but she turned it down because the employer did not offer additional compensation for the extra travel and child care costs. She obtained other employment. She sought benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that she was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
The employer argued that the worker was not disabled because she could still work as a phlebotomist. A doctor opined that she could not work as a CNA because of her injuries. The employer argued that jobs with exclusively phlebotomist duties existed. However, evidence did not demonstrate that these jobs were available in the worker's geographical area.
The court also found that the worker made reasonable efforts to obtain employment. She submitted applications for phlebotomist positions but did not receive any offers. Also, her employment before and after her injury did not demonstrate a "history of malingering."
The court found that the worker refused light-duty work that would accommodate her restrictions by voluntarily resigning before the employer could offer her such work. The court disagreed, stating that the worker had a full release at the time she resigned so light-duty work was not an issue. The court said it was "highly speculative" to presume the employer would have offered her light-duty work.
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September 20, 2012
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