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If You Are Collecting Workers Compensation Benefits and Are Out of Work, You May be Out of Luck

If you were laid off but are collecting workers compensation benefits, expect those payments to come under scrutiny. The state Appeals Court recently issued a decision (Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Construction) that could possibly result in the loss of those benefits.

Claude Medlin worked as a project manager and estimator for Weaver Cooke Construction. He was hired in 2006. He injured his right shoulder while moving furniture at a worksite in May 2008. He continued to work until being laid off in November 2008.

The following month Weaver accepted plaintiff’s injury as compensable and he began receiving medical treatment. In January 2009, Medlin started collecting unemployment benefits and in February 2009 he started collecting both workers compensation and temporary total disability benefits.

Medlin had surgery and physical therapy and was released to return to work. He subsequently felt more pain and a second physician assigned permanent work restrictions. He sought work but was not successful.

The need to prove work related disability is cause of unemployment.

Weaver sought to have Medlin’s workers compensation benefits ended in December 2010. It claimed Medlin couldn’t establish a work related disability and the poor economy was the reason he wasn’t working, not his injury. The full Commission agreed and Medlin appealed.

The Court of Appeals agreed with that decision, stating that an injured worker must prove that his injury caused his inability to find work. The judges ruled Medlin failed to do that because of evidence he was physically able to work, but couldn’t, because of the slow economy. Though he showed evidence of a diligent job search, it wasn’t relevant. In prior decisions, the Court has tended to consider extent of “diligent” job searches, economic conditions, and the actual job availability. If this decisions stands, these factors will have much less or no importance is reviews of ongoing disability.

A large part of my practice involves helping injured workers obtain and maintain workers compensation benefits. I believe that the Medlin case may encourage more insurance companies to move to cut off disability payments using the slow economy argument. If you find yourself in the same situation, or a similar situation as Mr. Medlin, where you’re collecting workers compensation benefits while you’re unemployed and your former employer wants to end those benefits, contact my office to discuss what’s going on and your legal options.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED WORKERS' COMPENSATION QUESTIONS

Do I need a lawyer?

In order to make sure you have all the necessary facts and N.C. laws to make an intelligent decision on your WC case, it is important to consult an attorney who is both experienced and knowledgeable in WC law.

Q. Can I be disabled under WC guidelines if the only problems I have are psychological in nature?

A. Yes. WC law recognizes mental or physical ailments that prevent you from working at your pre injury job or other “suitable” employment making similar earnings. Disability that results from pure mental difficulties are compensable but generally have to be supported by treating mental health care professionals.

Do Undocumented Workers Qualify for Workers Compensation?

Immigration reform and enforcement of immigration laws have become a political hot topic, especially in light of Arizona’s enactment of several laws aimed at getting more undocumented residents to leave the state. In North Carolina, that debate hasn’t impacted the state’s workers' compensation laws. Under §97-2 of the state’s Workers' Compensation Act, the definition of “employee” states in part, (E)very person engaged in an employment under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, including aliens, and also minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed, but excluding persons whose employment is both casual and not in the course of the trade, business, profession, or occupation of his employer… The key language is that the law covers “aliens…whether lawfully or unlawfully employed…” Big picture, national immigration issues took a back seat (if they were thought of at all) when the legislature wrote this section and when...

What injuries are covered?

WC law covers most accidental injuries as well as back injuries if they are caused by your work. While pre-existing injuries are generally not the responsibility of the employer, aggravation of these same injuries may be compensable under WC law. The critical determination is whether your new injury was caused by your medical condition or by an accident on the job. An injury by itself does not mean an accident occurred.

Q. How much $ will I get from WC due to an on-the-job injury?

A. NC law permits an injured worker to receive 66%of his or her pre injury gross wages for each week they are unable to work. This salary continuation or temporary total disability (TTD) payment continues until the worker returns to work at the same job or a “suitable” position making similar wages. If the worker cannot return to a job making similar wages, they are entitled to additional benefits depending on the extent of loss of earning capacity. Each year, the maximum TTD is increased. In 2005, the maximum TTD was $704.

Q. What if my work injury causes or exacerbates my depression or other mental illness?

A. Work injury related depression and other mental impairments may be compensable under NC Law. Our appellate courts are regularly expanding the consideration of mental and physical ailments that result from your employment and/or inability to work after a physical injury. If you believe your work injury caused or deepened any mental difficulty you might have possessed before or after the actual injury, you should fully discuss your thoughts with your mental counsellor. The Industrial commission is increasingly aware of and open to the concept that mental ailments can be as significant as physical ones.

Our Video Library is not closed-captioned.  Instead of embedding our videos, we have created posts for them, where full transcripts of can be found.
Click on the links below to view the video and its transcript.

Workers’ Compensation Overview on Vimeo

Workers Compensation Overview

Workers’ Compensation Injuries and the Complex nature of the law on Vimeo

Workers’ Compensation Injuries and the Complex Nature of the Law

Waiting Periods for Workers’ Compensation Benefit Payments

Waiting Periods for Workers’ Compensation Benefits

NC Workers’ Compensation Elements of Settlement

NC Workers’ Compensation Elements of Settlement

Settlements of Workers’ Compensation Claims on Vimeo

Settlement of Workers’ Compensation Claims in North Carolina

Pre Existing Conditions and Work Comp in North Carolina

Pre-existing Conditions and Workers’ Compensation Claims

NC Workers’ Comp Covers Many Different Kinds of Injuries

NC Workers’ Comp Covers Many Different Kinds of Injuries

Reopening Workers’ Compensation Cases

Reopening Workers’ Compensation Cases

Can’t Return To Work After an Injury

Workers’ Compensation Benefits When You Cannot Return to Work

Specific Traumatic Injuries

Specific Traumatic Injuries Under Workers’ Compensation

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