Once an injured employee has been awarded workers’ compensation, he or she has cleared the biggest hurdle. However, it may not be the only obstacle he or she will face in the bureaucratic benefits process.
This is true even if you are no longer working for the employer from whom you obtained the benefits. In some cases, employers will pursue former workers for overpayment of benefits if they believe the disability did not last as long as the benefits. That could mean you are suddenly facing an unexpected bill for thousands of dollars, and the burden of proof is on you to show you truly were still disabled and lacked the capacity to work.
Our Atlanta work injury lawyers can help.
An example of this recently cropped up in the North Carolina Supreme Court. In Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Constr., LLC, the plaintiff had an undisputed compensable injury. However, after he was laid off, the employer demanded that not only the disability benefits stop, but that the worker repay a portion of those benefits. The employer alleged he was no longer disabled, and hadn’t been for some time.
According to court records, the plaintiff had worked as a civil project engineer for decades when, in 2008 and employed by a construction firm, he injured his shoulder. He was lifting a large credenza, and felt his shoulder pop. He attempted to shrug it off, but the injury was exacerbated later that day when he was moving a 50-pound box of files.
Still, he continued to work through the pain until later that year, when the company announced company-wide layoffs as a result of a lack off work. The complainant was one of those who lost his job.
When he filed a workers’ compensation claim, the firm did not fight it. He received both unemployment benefits and temporary total disability benefits, which continued for the next two years.
In the meantime, the complainant received numerous treatments for his shoulder, including surgeries and physical therapy. He was eventually placed at maximum medical improvement, but was barred from lifting weights higher than 10 pounds, conducting repetitive overhead injuries or climbing ladders.
In the meantime, he tried to find work. He submitted hundreds of inquiries and applications and sent out dozens of resumes. He was unable to find work.
At the end of 2010, the employer submitted an application to terminate the former worker’s disability compensation, asserting he was no longer disabled. The company pointed to his other attempts to find employment as a strong indicator that he wasn’t disabled, but rather that the employment market was weak.
The matter was heard five months later, and sided in favor of the employer, awarding a credit for those five months’ worth of disability benefits. Another hearing occurred the following year, and again, the decision favored the employer.
In its reasoning, the full commission noted that while partial disability may be at least somewhat to blame for difficulty finding work, in order to award disability benefits, it must be the primary reason.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Constr., LLC, June 12, 2014, North Carolina Supreme Court
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Workplace Death Entitles Survivors to Benefits, Possible Third-Party Lawsuit, May 3, 2014, Atlanta Work Injury Lawyer Blog