Recent WC Cases a Reminder to Think Carefully When Deciding Which Claims to Bring to the Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals decided two workers’ compensation cases on February 2, 2016. In Falin v. The Roberts Company Field Services, Inc., the Court affirmed the Full Commission’s award of benefits to Mr. Falin. Temporary partial disability benefits were the only benefits at issue because Mr. Falin had returned to work with a different employer. The case centered on the plain reading of the statutory language defining suitable work under N.C.G.S. § 97-22(2). The statute requires that post-maximum medical improvement work be within 50 miles of the employee’s home in order to be considered suitable employment. In this case, the work The Roberts Company was contending was suitable was 338 miles from Mr. Falin’s home. The Roberts Company contended this job was suitable, despite the distance, because Mr. Falin’s pre-injury job was also hundreds of miles from home and in the same area. The Court ultimately held that the plain reading of the statute made the 50-mile consideration a requirement and not just a factor to be weighed; thus rendering the offered job unsuitable and entitling Mr. Falin to temporary partial disability benefits.
In Pickett v. Advance Auto Parts, Mr. Pickett sought benefits for psychological injuries after being the victim of an armed robbery while working as a salesperson at an Advance Auto store. He was held at gunpoint while the robber stole money and thereafter fled the scene. As a result, Mr. Pickett suffered psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The issue before the Court involved challenges to Mr. Pickett’s credibility and to his doctors’ competency as experts. The Commission had previously found Mr. Pickett to be credible, so the Court would not consider questions regarding his credibility; which summarily resolved any challenges to the doctors’ opinions that were founded on Mr. Pickett’s credibility. In regard to challenges to the doctors’ competency as experts, the Court found no basis for finding either doctor incompetent as an expert. This holding also resolved Advance Auto’s challenge to the finding of disability as both doctors had written Mr. Pickett out of work. The Court thus upheld the Commission’s award of ongoing benefits to Mr. Pickett.
Risk Handling Hints: The decisions in Falin and Pickett provide reminders that parties should think carefully when considering whether to appeal a case to the Court of Appeals. Appeals from the Full Commission should not be pursued merely as a matter of course, but instead should be thought out given the facts and posture of the claim. Parties considering an appeal should remember that the Court of Appeals will not overrule the Industrial Commission’s “findings of fact” unless there is no evidence to support those findings.