Sometimes it's better not to appeal a ruling you don't agree with. In an opinion issued today by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, workers' comp insurer Liberty Mutual was again ordered to pay an injured worker's attorney fees, after the company unsuccessfully appealed an order to pay for attendant care for the second time.
The worker, Connie Chandler, was injured over ten years ago when she fell and hit her head on stairs while performing janitorial duties. She was diagnosed with a concussion and a closed-head brain injury. Her condition deteriorated, eventually she required round-the-clock attendant care and was later ruled legally incompetent; her husband was appointed guardian.
Ms. Chandler's husband acted as his wife's attendant for years, without pay. Doctors, including ones hired by Liberty Mutual, had unanimously agreed on the need for attendant care as far back as 2004. She requested retroactive compensation for the care in 2008, and Liberty Mutual appealed the Industrial Commission's decision granting the fees, all the way to the Supreme Court. Then, the insurance company appealed again, claiming that the Commission had not provided findings regarding the reasonableness of the delay in seeking payment for the attendant care, which they argued was implicit in the Supreme Court's ruling because of a case cited by in that Court's ruling.
In the case relied upon by the insurance company, Mehaffey v. Burger King, 217 N.C. 120 (2013), the Industrial Commission ordered retroactive payment for attendant care that was being provided by the plaintiff's spouse that began more than a year prior to the medical recommendation for such care. The Supreme Court confirmed the Commission's authority to order retroactive compensation for spousal attendant care services, but remanded to the Commission for a determination of the reasonableness of the plaintiff's delay in seeking the Commission's approval for the services.
Liberty Mutual argued that a review of the reasonableness of Chandler's delay in seeking compensation for attendant care was implicit because the Supreme Court cited Mehaffey. The argument was not well received. The Court of Appeals ruled that the Industrial Commission's decision on remand to not make additional findings of fact regarding the reasonableness of the delay was "entirely consistent" with existing case law. The court ruled that nothing in the Supreme Court's ruling required the Commission to revisit the issue of reasonableness, that the Commission had already made detailed findings regarding the issue, and that the delay was in fact reasonable- at least in part because of the injured worker's deteriorating mental condition and the fact that no guardian was appointed to make legal decisions for her until 2008, a handful of weeks after the request for payment for attendant care.
The full text of the Court of Appeals decision in Chandler v. Atl. Scrap & Processing can be read here.
The North Carolina Workers' Compensation attorneys at Edelstein Payne & Lucas handle workers comp claims across the State of North Carolina. We provide free consultations for anyone who thinks they have a claim; appointments can be scheduled by using the contact form in our sidebar or calling 919-828-1456.