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Disfigured Injured Workers are Entitled to Additional Benefits in North Carolina

disfiguredA North Carolina injured worker may be additionally compensated for injuries which leave serious facial or head disfigurement. Unfortunately, the limit of benefits available for serious facial and head disfigurement is limited to $20,000. In the case of the loss of an eye, when an artificial eye cannot be fitted and used, the NC Industrial Commission may consider that a serious facial disfigurement and may award up to $20,000.

If there is serious bodily disfigurement, as opposed to disfigurement of the face or head, the employee may recover for such disfigurement a sum up to $10,000.

The claimant must show that such disfigurement hampers his or her ability to find employment.

What constitutes serious bodily disfigurement is within the discretion of the NC Industrial Commission. Scars on the knees or arms have been compensated by the NC Industrial Commission, but such scars do not usually result in a significant recovery. However, it is usually worth the effort to try to recover for any scars or disfigurement if the worker feels they are significant.

In the case of both facial and head disfigurement, as well as bodily disfigurement, if the employee and the employer do not agree on the proper amount of compensation, the issue of the degree and significance of disfigurement will be decided by the NC Industrial Commission, which will examine the claimant personally or by way of photographs.

There is another limitation to the amount of compensation that can be awarded for bodily disfigurement. If the disfigurement resulted from the permanent and total, or a permanent partial loss of the use of any member of the body for which compensation is paid under other the provision of North Carolina's workers compensation law, no additional amount may be paid for the disfigurement associated with the permanent total or partial loss of that part of the body. For instance, if a worker loses a leg and is compensated for that loss based upon 200 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits payable for the loss of a leg, that worker cannot recover anything additional for the disfigurement resulting from the loss of that leg.

Our appellate courts have held that separate awards must be made in cases involving facial disfigurement and bodily disfigurement. If a worker has become disfigured both in his face and his body as a result of a work related injury, the worker is entitled to recovery for both of these disfigurements. Since the limit on the bodily disfigurement is $10,000 and the limit for facial disfigurement is $20,000, theoretically a worker could be awarded a total of $30,000 for disfigurement of the face and body.

Some cases have ruled that disfigurement alone is not made compensable by the Workers’ Compensation Act. The courts have ruled that in order to be compensable, a disfigurement must not only be a “marked” disfigurement, but also one which impairs the future occupational opportunity of the injured employee.

One court has ruled that in order to be compensable, the disfigurement must be so permanent and serious that in some manner it hampers or handicaps the person in his earnings or in securing employment, or it must be such as to make the person repulsive to other people. This case seems to stand therefore for the proposition that a disfigurement may be compensable even if there is no impairment of earning capacity. Indeed, the Industrial Commission has frequently awarded compensation for disfigurement when there is no proof that the disfigurement impaired earning capacity.

The law gives the Industrial Commission the discretion as to whether to award anything for serious bodily disfigurement. On the other hand with respect to serious facial or head disfigurement, the law provides that the Commission: “shall award proper and equitable compensation not to exceed $20,000.” The courts have ruled that this statute makes it mandatory on the Commission to award fair and equitable compensation in the case of serious facial or head disfigurement. However, that is not the case with regard to disfigurement of other parts of the body.

One appellate court decision has ruled that in deciding compensation for serious disfigurement, the Commission should consider: “the natural physical handicap resulting and the age, training, experience, education, occupation, and adaptability of the employee to obtain and retain employment."

In the case in which an employee is found to have a total and permanent disability, no additional compensation is allowed for disfigurement, serious or otherwise.