NC Court of Appeals' Recent Workers' Compensation Cases

The North Carolina Court of Appeals heard two workers' compensation cases on appeal and decided them earlier this month.

The first, Mehaffey v. Burger King involved a manager at Burger King who suffered a compensable knee injury while at work. In the North Carolina Industrial Commission's Opinion and Award, the Plaintiff was awarded retroactive attendant care fees for his wife, home modifications for a power wheel chair, a hospital bed, and transportation to doctors appointments. Defendants argued that the Commission erred in awarding retroactive payments for attendant care because they were not pre-approved. Shockingly, the Court agreed, even though the it recently held in the Boylan and Ruiz cases that pre-approval was not necessary for attendant care services. The Court relied on the out-dated Hatchett case from 1954, which has been superceded by later Supreme Court decisions and legislative changes. Perhaps the Court will agree to rehear the case, which appears to be a clear mistake.

Next, in Keeton v. Circle K, the Court affirmed the Industrial Commission's Opinion and Award, which granted the defendants' application to suspend benefits. Keeton appealed the Commission's decision, contending that she should be entitled to continuing benefits because she made a reasonable effort to return to work and there was no actual refusal to work. The Court rejected these contentions, concluding there was sufficient evidence to show that the available manager position with Circle K fit within her physical restrictions, was "suitable employment," and the Plaintiff made no effort to return to work at Circle K. Thus, deeming the Plaintiff's actions to be a voluntary refusal to accept suitable employment, the Court affirmed the denial of benefits under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-32.