in the Supreme Court on 22 March 2017.
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the unpublished
decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, __
N.C.App. __, 786 S.E.2d 433 (2016), affirming an amended
opinion and award filed on 4 March 2015 by the North Carolina
Poisson, Poisson & Bower, PLLC, by E. Stewart Poisson,
Orbock, Ruark & Dillard, P.C., by Jessica E. Lyles and
Roger L. Dillard, Jr., for defendant-appellees.
Court of Appeals, plaintiff employee challenged the
Industrial Commission's determination that he is not
entitled to any compensation for permanent partial disability
under N.C. G.S. § 97-31. The Court of Appeals, in a
divided opinion, affirmed the denial, and plaintiff appealed
to this Court on the basis of the dissenting opinion. We
reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this
case for further proceedings.
summary of facts is based on the stipulations of the parties
as well as the forms in the record and the unchallenged
findings of fact in the most recent opinion and award filed
on 4 March 2015. On 2 March 2001, plaintiff, a pipefitter,
suffered a compensable accident and sustained injuries to his
left upper leg, neck, and other areas of his body when a
heavy valve fell on his head, while he was walking at his job
site. Defendants, his employer at the time and its
workers' compensation insurance carrier, accepted
plaintiff's claim as compensable under the Workers'
Compensation Act (Act). Plaintiff received medical treatment
for his injuries for a period of several years, but
defendants eventually refused to authorize additional medical
treatment. Defendants have handled the claim as medical only
from its onset, and plaintiff has never received indemnity
his work-related accident, plaintiff immediately complained
of neck pain and headaches, and he received prompt treatment
from an authorized medical provider, who documented
plaintiff's complaints of headaches and neck pain.
Plaintiff was referred to chiropractor Larry Stogner for
care. Plaintiff attempted to return to work for defendant
employer by doing light duty tasks, but he was laid off on 22
April 2001. On 27 June 2001, Dixon Gerber, M.D., an
orthopaedic surgeon, saw plaintiff for a second opinion
examination and found that plaintiff "was at maximum
medical improvement and had no permanent partial
disability." Dr. Gerber's medical record also
reflected plaintiff's impression that he "could
probably return to work at any time." Dr. Gerber
released plaintiff from treatment without restrictions as of
2 July 2001, four months after plaintiff's work-related
employer re-hired plaintiff but shortly thereafter terminated
him for missing work and tardiness. After that, plaintiff
worked for other employers, also as a pipefitter. Plaintiff
testified that he had to stop working as a pipefitter in
February 2003 because of his ongoing neck pain. Plaintiff
then worked in other occupations until May 2009, and he
received unemployment benefits when he was not working during
that time. Plaintiff became a full-time community college
student in May 2009.
the years after his work-related accident, plaintiff
continued to have neck pain, and in October 2002, defendants
referred him for an independent medical examination by Robert
Lacin, M.D., at Goldsboro Neurological Surgery. Dr. Lacin
opined that he "certainly ha[d] no doubt that
[plaintiff's] symptoms are related to this incident of
March 2, 2001."
December 2003, plaintiff began treatment with Hemanth Rao,
M.D., at Neurology Consultants of the Carolinas. An MRI in
November 2006 showed that plaintiff had evidence of a
continuing injury, for which he was referred for a surgical
opinion. Plaintiff received an independent medical evaluation
from Alfred Rhyne, M.D., at OrthoCarolina in April 2009,
after which Dr. Rhyne recommended another MRI. Dr. Rhyne
later testified that if plaintiff had no complaints of pain
or problems before his March 2001 workplace injury, that
injury "precipitated the onset of his symptoms."
Defendants did not authorize the MRI as recommended by Dr.
subsequently received an MRI at the Veterans Affairs Medical
Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A medical record from
that facility dated 9 August 2010 diagnosed
"[m]ultilevel cervical spondylosis seen in the lower
cervical spine, most prominent at C5 and C6."
Chiropractor Stogner, who had treated plaintiff since shortly
after his injury, also opined that it was "more probable
than not" that the 2 March 2001 workplace accident
caused plaintiff's neck problems and stated that he does
"not expect to see any significant improvement with
[plaintiff's] injury status [as he] suspect[s] that
[plaintiff's] condition is permanent."
last payment of medical compensation to plaintiff was on 18
May 2009. Plaintiff enrolled in college full time in May
2009, graduated with an associate's degree in May 2012,
and at the time his case was heard before the deputy
commissioner, was a full-time student pursuing a
bachelor's degree in business. Plaintiff worked part time
at a desk job while he was a student.
January 2012, plaintiff filed a Form 33 with the Industrial
Commission, asserting that defendants "ha[d] failed to
authorize plaintiff's request for further treatment with
Dr. Rhyne" and contending that there was also "an
issue with indemnity benefits." In their response to
this filing, defendants stated that the claim "is barred
by the statute of limitations [in] G.S. §97-24.
Plaintiff's claim is a no lost time claim. This claim was
medical only and it has been more than two years since the
last payment of medical compensation."
February 2013, a deputy commissioner ordered that, to the
extent they had not done so, defendants provide (pay for) all
medical treatment for plaintiff's neck condition for the
period between the date of injury through 18 May 2009. The
deputy denied plaintiff's claim for additional benefits
under the Act. Plaintiff appealed to the Full Commission
(Commission), which affirmed the deputy commissioner's
opinion and award on 16 September 2013.
appealed the Commission's opinion and award to the North
Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing, inter alia, that
the Commission's findings of fact were inadequate and
that the record evidence entitled him to permanent impairment
indemnity benefits. Harrison v. Gemma Power Sys.,
LLC, 234 N.C.App. 664, 763 S.E.2d 17, 2014 WL 2993853
(2014) (unpublished) (Harrison I). Specifically,
plaintiff argued that Finding of Fact 22 was not supported ...