Martin & Jones, PLLC
Call today for a Free consultation.

Freeman v. Rothrock: Supreme Court Rejects 'Larson Test'

In a per curiam decision issued May 1, 2009, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals decision holding that an inured worker was barred from receiving workers' compensation benefits because he failed to disclose prior problems with his back. The Supreme Court did not issue an opinion. Rather, they adopted the dissent of Judge Wynn in the Court of Appeals case.

In a decision issued March 4, 2008, the North Carolina Court of Appeals adopted what it called the 'Larson Test.' Freeman v. J. L. Rothrock, --- N.C. App. ---, --- S.E.2d --- (2008). Under the Larson Test, in certain circumstances when an employee fails to disclose prior medical conditions and is later injured, the employee is not entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

In 2000, Mr. Freeman applied for work at J.L. Rothrock. On a medical-history questionnaire, he failed to disclose thta he had a history of low back problems and light-duty work restrictions resulting from workers' compensation claims in 1992 and 1996. For almost two years, Mr. Freeman worked a strenuous trucking job with Rothrock without any back problems. On March 11, 2002, he suffered a back injury while working at Rothrock.

Rothrock tried to terminate Mr. Freeman's benefits on the basis that his 'misrepresentations' on the questionnaire barred his right to recover benefits. The Industrial Commission rejected this argument. However, the Court of Appeals sided with Rothrock and held that Mr. Freeman was barred from receiving benefits.

In doing so, the Court adopted and applied the Larson Test. Under this test, an employee can be barred from receiving workers' compensation benefits if three elements are established: (1) The employee knowingly and willingly makes false representations about his physical condition, (2) the employer relies on these presentations, and (3) there is a causal connection between the false representations and the injury.

The majority of the Court of Appeals held that Mr. Freeman had made misrepresentations on his employment application and that J.L. Rothrock relied on them in hiring him. Because the misrepresentations related to prior back injuries, the court held that J.L. Rothrock relied on them in hiring him. Because the misrepresentations related to prior back injuries, the court held that there was a casual connection between the failure to disclose the prior injuries and the back injury at Rothrock.

Judge Wynn dissented from the majority ruling for two reasons. First, the Court of Appeals had rejected the Larson Test in at least two prior cases. The Court of Appeals is bound by its own precedent and cannot simply 'overrul' one of its own decisions. Second, Judge Wynn held that there is no statute in the Workers' Compensation Act that allows adoption and application of the Larson Test. Thus, the majority's use of the test amounted to 'judicial legislation.'

What does this mean for the injured worker?

First, despite this result, do not make misrepresentations on your employment applications. As Elihu Root once advised a client, 'The law lets you do it, but don't. It's a rotten thing to do.' On the other hand, this case can be interpreted as encouraging injured workers to return to the workforce. So long as they can safely perform the essential functions of a job, workers should not be punished for testing the boundaries of restrictions from previous injuries.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information


Contact US Get Help Now

Send us an email or call us today at 800-662-1234 to speak with an attorney about your claim or to arrange a free consultation. It costs nothing to call and there is no obligation. In fact, we are not paid until your case is resolved. Se habla español. If you are unable to travel to one of our offices in Raleigh, Durham and Wilmington, we will meet with you at your location.

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

Raleigh Office
410 Glenwood Avenue
Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27603

Toll Free: 800-662-1234
Phone: 919-821-0005
Raleigh Law Office Map

Wilmington Office
1213 Culbreth Drive
Suite 121
Wilmington, NC 28405

Toll Free: 800-662-1234
Phone: 910-256-4005
Wilmington Law Office Map

Durham Office
302 East Pettigrew Street
Suite 330
Durham, NC 27701

Toll Free: 800-662-1234
Phone: 919-544-3000
Durham Law Office Map