When Does an Employer Have to Pay Educational Expenses?
Gilbert Silva suffered a compensable injury in 2001 while working for Lowes Home Improvement. He kept working for Lowes after his injury, but was terminated in 2002. After multiple appeals, Lowes paid a lump sum for accrued TTD and initiated ongoing weekly payments. Three years later, Mr. Silva filed a motion requesting, among other things, reimbursement for three community college classes, a Process Tech Certification fee, and a $2,860.00 fee Mr. Silva’s accountants charged him to compile amounts allegedly owed to him in connection with his workers’ compensation claim.
Mr. Silva’s motion was denied by the Commission and he appealed. On February 3, 2015 the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s decision in Silva v. Lowes Home Improvement.
With respect to the expenses he incurred for community college classes and the Process Tech Certification, the Court noted that although Mr. Silva took the classes and incurred these expenses to try to regain some type of employment, he admitted he was not referred to the courses by a vocational rehabilitation professional. As there was no medical or vocational testimony tending to show these educational expenses were recommended by a medical or a rehabilitation professional or that they would lessen his period of disability, the Court found that the Commission did not err in denying Silva’s request for reimbursement.
The Court also affirmed the Commission’s decision denying payment of the fees Silva’s accountants charged him. Although Silva tried to argue the fees charged by his CPA were akin to a life care plan, the Court held the Commission did not err in concluding that there was insufficient evidence the accounting expenses were a necessary medical or rehabilitative service.
Risk Handling Hint: Silva reminds Risk Managers that although “medical compensation” is broadly interpreted in North Carolina, the service requested still must effect a cure, provide relief or lessen the period of the injured worker’s disability. The outcome with Silva’s education expenses could have been different if he had obtained testimony, even after the fact, that the expenses were a reasonable or appropriate vocational plan.