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College Attendance Does Not Substitute for Job Search

work injury court caseAn employee who is unable to work due to an on-the-job injury is entitled to recover workers' compensation benefits in the amount of two-thirds of their average weekly wage during the time they are out of work. However, in order to be entitled to these benefits, the worker must prove they are unable to work. The worker carries this burden of proof even if the employer agrees to pay workers' compensation benefits. If the employer ever seeks to stop these benefits, it is the worker, not the employer who has the burden of proving he is disabled.

A college student was recently denied workers' compensation benefits because the college student failed to show she was unable to find suitable employment after her doctor released her to return to work without restrictions. The employer had initially accepted the plaintiff's claim for workers' compensation benefits after she suffered injuries in an automobile accident while she was running errands for the employer. 

However, once the employee was released to return to work without restrictions, the employer asked the North Carolina Industrial Commission to terminate her benefits. This application was denied. However, upon appeal, the full NC Industrial Commission ruled that the employer's request to terminate her benefits should have been granted. The Commission then denied further benefits and ruled that the employer was entitled to credit for benefits paid to the employee after her release to return to work.

The employee contended that she continued to be disabled after March 19, 2002, the date that she was released to return to work, because she had not reached maximum medical improvement with regard to her leg injury and because she was enrolled then and attended college classes.

Upon appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals that court held that the employee failed to meet her burden of proving that she was disabled and that her enrollment in and attendance of college classes did not excuse or serve as a substitute for a reasonable job search. The court held that the employee was capable of earning wages she had earned prior to her injury and that she was no longer disabled.