Question: I tore my rotator cuff working on a gas drilling well pad site and I’m receiving workers compensation benefits. My rotator cuff injury limits me to light duty work. I then applied for Social Security Disability benefits based not only on my shoulder problem, but also on some other health issues that I have (diabetes, a herniated disc in my low back from a car accident years ago, and emphysema). I had a hearing on the Social Security claim and I was awarded Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security judge found that I’m disabled as a result of the herniated disc, the diabetes and the emphysema. He didn’t mention my shoulder in his decision. The comp carrier has now filed a petition to stop my comp benefits stating that I “removed myself from the workforce”. Can they do that? J.C., address withheld
Answer: Yes, they can. In a case like yours, the Workers Compensation judge will consider the totality of the circumstances in analyzing the question of whether you voluntarily removed yourself from the workforce. Your work injury limits you to light duty work but does not totally disable you. The Social Security system found that you were disabled based upon conditions that are unrelated to your work injury. Since you were awarded Social Security disability benefits based on your inability to engage in substantial gainful activity and because your work injury did not prevent you from engaging in substantial gainful activity, the employer is now trying to suspend your workers comp benefits. If the employer can prove that you are receiving disability benefits based upon your assertion that you are unable to work (for reasons unrelated to your work injury), it will likly be held that you voluntarily withdrew from the workforce.
If you’ve suffered a work injury or if you have questions about a Social Security claim, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (570) 347-1011 for a free consultation.
Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.