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Haulcy v. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 5, 2018

JENNIFER L. HAULCY, Employee, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., Employer, and LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Carrier, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 January 2018.

          Appeals by plaintiff and by defendants from opinion and award entered 25 April 2017 by the Full Commission of the North Carolina Industrial Commission, I.C. No. 14-017309

          Law Offices of Kathleen G. Sumner, by Kathleen G. Sumner; and Law Office of David P. Stewart, by David P. Stewart, for plaintiff-appellant and plaintiff-appellee.

          Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo LLP, by M. Duane Jones and Matthew J. Ledwith, for defendant-appellees and defendant-appellants.

          ELMORE, JUDGE.

         In this workers' compensation case, employer Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and carrier Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. (defendants), and employee Jennifer L. Haulcy (plaintiff), both appeal from an opinion and award of the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which awarded Haulcy retroactive workers' compensation benefits and awarded defendants a credit for disability payments paid to Haulcy under an employer-funded accident-and-sickness (A&S) disability plan during that time.

         In defendants' appeal, they assert the Commission's conclusion that Haulcy suffered a compensable injury in the form of a material aggravation of her preexisting lower back condition while maneuvering a fifty-five pound tire during the course of her employment on 23 April 2014 was unsupported by competent evidence and its findings. In Haulcy's appeal, she asserts the Commission erred by awarding defendants the A&S credit because they failed to preserve the issue, and because the Commission's dispositive finding supporting its conclusion on the matter was unsupported by competent evidence.

         Because competent evidence supports the dispositive findings that support the challenged conclusions, we affirm the Commission's opinion and award in full.

         I. Background

         The Commission's opinion and award reveals the following facts. Jennifer Haulcy is forty-six years old and has worked with Goodyear Tire for the last eighteen years. During her employment there, Haulcy has worked as a tire sorter, a Banbury operator, and, since 2007, a paint machine operator.

         Paint machine operators work in pairs. When the paint machine is working properly, one operator removes tires from an elevated flatbed and places them onto an entrance conveyor, where the tires move under the paint machine to be sprayed with lubricant. When the lubricated tires exit the conveyor, the other operator puts the tires back onto the elevated flatbed, a process known as "throwing" tires. If a paint machine breaks down, the tires need to be manually lubricated. One operator picks up a tire, hangs it on a hook, spins the tire while brushing it with the lubricant, and then throws it back on the elevated flatbed. The other operator pushes the flatbed of tires to and from the lubricating area.

         On 19 March 2013, Haulcy injured her back while attempting to push a flatbed with a stuck wheel. She presented to the on-site medical clinic, was diagnosed with a low back strain, and was put on modified duty until 3 May, when she was released to return to full duty and prescribed to wear a back brace. Haulcy returned to work, continued to wear her back brace, and never filed a workers' compensation claim for that incident. Haulcy's medical records do not reveal she received any further treatment for her lower back after 3 May 2013.

         On 23 April 2014, Haulcy and her paint-machine-operator partner were manually lubricating larger tires that weighed approximately fifty-five pounds because their paint machine was inoperable. At that time, Haulcy was wearing her back brace, throwing the tires, and lubricating them, while her partner was pushing the flatbed of tires to and from the area. Around 8:00 a.m., Haulcy leaned back to throw a tire and felt pain in her lower back. She attempted to throw a few more tires but her back pain increased as she continued to twist her body to throw the tires onto the elevated flatbed. Haulcy asked her partner to change positions, and she started pushing the flatbed before determining she needed to present to the on-site medical facility for her back pain. MRIs later revealed, inter alia, a small disc herniation at L5-S1 and facet arthropathy at L4-L5, and Haulcy was diagnosed with multiple injuries to her lumbar spine. Haulcy started working modified duty on 24 April 2014.

         On 29 April 2014, Haulcy filed a Form 18 "Notice of Accident, " alleging she sustained a back injury at work. On 27 May, defendants filed a Form 63 "Notice to Employee of Payment of Medical Benefits Only." In accordance with Goodyear Tire's 90-day modified-duty policy, Haulcy worked modified duty until that policy expired on 4 August, when Goodyear Tire prohibited her from working because she had neither been released to full duty work nor had she been assigned permanent restrictions to allow a job match. Starting 14 August 2014, Goodyear Tire paid Haulcy weekly disability payments from an employer-funded A&S disability plan.

         On 17 September, Haulcy filed a Form 33 "Request for Hearing" because defendants had failed to accept or deny her workers' compensation claim, and were directing her medical care but refused to pay workers' compensation benefits when she was out of work. On 27 February 2015, defendants filed a Form 61 "Denial of Workers' Compensation Claim." Following physical therapy, steroid injections, and radio frequency intervention for her lower back pain and symptoms, Haulcy eventually returned to work with Goodyear Tire on 4 November 2015, earning wages at or above her pre-April 2014 incident wages.

         After the hearing arising from Haulcy's Form 33, Deputy Commissioner Wanda Blanche Taylor entered an opinion and award on 29 December 2015. In her opinion and award, Deputy Commissioner Taylor concluded Haulcy sustained a compensable injury on 23 April 2014 and awarded her continuing weekly workers' compensation benefits, but did not address Haulcy having returned to work or the A&S disability payments she received during the period the deputy commissioner awarded her retroactive workers' compensation benefits. After defendants' motion to add evidence and to reconsider the deputy commissioner's opinion and award was denied, they appealed to the Commission.

         After a hearing, the Commission entered its opinion and award on 25 April 2017. The Commission concluded Haulcy sustained a compensable injury on 23 April 2014 and awarded her retroactive workers' compensation benefits from 5 August 2014 until 3 November 2015. It further concluded defendants were entitled to a $15, 521.90 credit for the weekly A&S disability payments they ...


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