Employees injured on the job who are terminated by their employer are generally entitled to collect temporary total disability (TTD) benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act until they are able to locate suitable replacement employment. Earlier this month, the North Carolina Supreme Court concluded that such benefits may be terminated when the underlying reason for the inability to locate work is based on overall economic conditions, and not the residual effects of the workplace injury.
In Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Construction, LLC, the plaintiff was a civil engineer who injured his shoulder shortly prior to the Great Recession. While recovering from the injury, he along with many co-workers were laid off due to the downturn in the construction industry. Over a year later, the plaintiff reached maximum medical improvement, but was unable to obtain new employment. The Workers’ Comp insurer sought to terminate benefits, claiming that the reason for the plaintiff’s lack of success was the overall economic climate, and not restrictions resulting from his injury.
The Supreme Court agreed, allowing the carrier to terminate TTD benefits. The plaintiff primarily worked as an Estimator, and the court noted factual findings at the administrative hearing stage confirming that his injuries and permanent restrictions should not have interfered with his ability to perform this work. It rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the Workers’ Comp Act only requires injured employees to prove a permanent disability and an inability to find work to receive TTD benefits. Instead, the Supreme Court stated that the plaintiff must also demonstrate a causal connection between the injury and the lack of success at finding new work.
During economic downturns, laid off employees have trouble finding new employment, and even if they find work, replacing their previous earning levels. However, unless the plaintiff demonstrates that these problems result from limitations imposed by the workplace injury, they have no special claim under Workers’ Comp to protection from general economic conditions.