August 31, 2015

South Carolina Worker Injury at Construction Site Blast

A South Carolina construction worker was seriously injured recently when a pipe exploded at a work site on the University of South Carolina Beaufort campus.
Authorities said the worker was conscious as he was flown by helicopter to the local hospital, shortly before 11 a.m. The worker was not immediately identified and neither were the exact nature of his injuries, though officials did say the injuries were serious enough that he had to be transported to the hospital by helicopter rather than ground ambulance.

He was being treated at the local trauma center, though the injuries did not appear to be life-threatening. Officials did say he the worker suffered "bruises and scratches." It's not clear if he also suffered severe burns.

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August 28, 2015

North Carolina Workers' Comp Law Would Target Cheating Businesses

For years in North Carolina, businesses - primarily those in the construction industry - have sidestepped labor and tax laws by labeling employees as "independent contractors."
In so doing, they reaped numerous benefits. They have been able to underbid law-abiding companies by as much as 20 percent because they didn't withhold taxes from paychecks. Workers, meanwhile, are made to toil absent the benefit of protections to which they are entitled, such as unemployment and workers' compensation insurance.

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer conducted a five-part series last year detailing this practice, and revealed it costs an estimated $467 million annually in lost federal and state revenue - just from the state's construction industry alone.

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August 25, 2015

Easley v. TLC Companies - Defining "Widow" for Workers' Compensation

In North Carolina, workers' compensation death benefits may be paid to the total dependents of an employee or next-of-kin, whichever is applicable.
Death benefits cover funeral expenses, plus two-thirds of employee's average weekly wages, payable for up to 500 weeks, unless dependent is a spouse unable to support himself or herself due to physical or mental disability or a child who is under 18.

However, determining who is eligible to collect these death benefits is not always a straightforward task. If the individual is married, typically those benefits would go to the surviving spouse. However, if the pair is estranged - but still married - there could be a valid dispute as to entitlement.

In the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Easley v. TLC Companies, the question arose of what constitutes a widow?

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August 22, 2015

Ellis v. Key City Furniture - Denial of Disability Claim

It's not unusual for workers' compensation claims to be denied outright, especially if the worker is not represented by an experienced attorney.
In many cases, workers have to fight for benefits, and it sometimes requires a substantial amount of evidence to establish certain aspects such as causation, whether the injury or illness occurred in the scope and course of employment and the full extent of claimant's disability.

In the recent case of Ellis v. Key City Furniture, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed a denial of benefits to an employee who failed to show she was unable to earn the same wages as she died prior to layoff. The court further held that the North Carolina Industrial Commission had not erred in giving diminished weight or totally disregarding her physician's opinion of her injuries.

This is one of the reasons why having ample evidence of each aspect of the case is so important. Presenting the opinion of just one doctor to testify in your favor may not be sufficient in your case.

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August 19, 2015

Holliday v. Tropical Nut & Fruit Co. - Workers' Comp for Laser Tag

The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the award of workers' compensation benefits to plaintiff in Holliday v. Tropical Nut & Fruit Co., over objections by employer that worker hadn't suffered a compensable injury, wasn't injured in the course of employment and wasn't entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
According to court records, the injury was sustained while plaintiff was playing "laser tag" at a company-sponsored event in Charlotte. The game was part of a three-day conference and plaintiff's attendance was mandatory. Normally, he was based in Asheville, but the conference was in Charlotte, and he wasn't allowed to bring his wife or children with him. He was paid normal salary for his time there.

During the day, the company discussed the previous year's sales, new products, new sales strategies and offered opportunities to meet with vendors and colleagues in other locations.

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August 16, 2015

Report: Workers' Compensation Costs Rise, Benefits Fall

Workers' compensation insurance is continuing to get more costly for businesses, and at the same time, workers are receiving even lesser benefits.
That's according to the latest report from the National Academy of Social Insurance.

What this means is people injured at work in North Carolina are going to have to fight even harder to obtain benefits to which they are entitled. And even if they secure benefits, they may be in for a battle when it comes to the extent of those benefits.

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August 14, 2015

OSHA Proposes New Work Injury Record-Keeping Rules

In 2012, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration lost a critical case in AKM LLC v. Secretary of Labor, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the federal regulator can't cite employers for failure to record work-related injuries and illnesses more than six months after the initial obligation to record the case occurred.
Previously, the commission had held it had up 5.5 years to bring such cases, and taken numerous employers to task with hefty fines and penalties for failure to do so. There was great concern after that decision would result in companies being lax on record-keeping duties.

Now, OSHA has announced it's proposing to amend it's record-keeping rules to reinforce the duty to record illness or injury for as long as the employer must keep records of recordable injury or illness. That time is five years.

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August 12, 2015

Pastry Chef Settles for $850K After Being Run Over on Way to Work

The state of North Carolina abides by the so-called "coming-and-going rule" when it comes to injuries sustained by an employee who is traveling to or from his place of employment.
Generally speaking, these injuries will not be covered by workers' compensation unless the worker is driving a vehicle furnished by the employer as an incident to the contract of employment, or if the injuries were sustained while the worker was on a premises owned or controlled by employer.

In a recent case out of Georgia, a pastry chef suffered grievous injuries in February last year while on her way to her place of employment, a local bread bakery and cafe. According to news reports, she was astride her bicycle when a car driver ran over her.

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August 9, 2015

Mensah v. CorVel Corp. - Workers' Comp for Self-Employed

Those who are self-employed in North Carolina do not necessarily have to carry workers' compensation insurance for themselves as sole proprietors or their partners or co-members of an LLC. That's because these individuals are not automatically considered "employees." However, it's still generally a good idea, especially if the work involves moderate to severe risk of injury.
Because the potential for a violation of law is high on this point, it's important for small business owners to consult with an attorney to ensure they have secured the proper coverage, if necessary.

Even then, self-employed individuals may find it difficult to collect on that coverage if it's necessary. Here again, employing an experienced legal team to help navigate the process can be well worth it, as there may be unforeseen complications in these cases with which other "regular" employees may not have to grapple.

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August 8, 2015

SC HB 4197 Proposes Workers' Compensation Alternative

A bill that would dramatically alter the South Carolina workers' compensation system has been introduced by a Republican representative (who is also a small business owner), and has been referred to the state's Committee on Labor, Commerce and Industry.
HB 4197, more widely known as the South Carolina Employee Injury Benefit Plan Alternative, would authorize new forms of insurance coverage and exemption from the current South Carolina Workers' Compensation Law. The move comes one year after Tennessee also introduced similar legislation, though that was not ultimately voted on before the legislature adjourned for the session.

Only two other states - Texas and Oklahoma - allow workers' compensation alternative options. The goal, supporters say, is to reduce employer costs associated with worker injuries and to "encourage market competition." Two co-sponsors of the bill include a chairman on the labor committee, as well as another representative who is also a small business owner.

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August 5, 2015

Fernandes v. DAR Development Corp. - Trench Collapse Work Injury Lawsuit

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports two workers are killed monthly in the U.S. due to trench collapses. Employers owe their workers a duty to create a hazard-free work environment that doesn't imperil employees and put them at risk for serious injury or death. constructionsite1.jpg

Cave-ins in particular pose a grave risk, and are more likely to be fatal than other types of excavation-related accidents.

The recent case of Fernandes v. DAR Development Corp. involved a worker who was injured as a result of a trench collapse. The case, a third-party work injury lawsuit, was recently before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

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August 2, 2015

Study: New Nurses at Higher Risk of Work Injury in North Carolina, U.S.

A new study conducted by the RN Work Project, recently published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, found that newer nurses may be at higher risk for injuries than their more experienced counterparts. nurses.jpg

It's been well-established that those within the nursing profession face a high risk of work injury both within North Carolina and nationally. Some of the more common, non-fatal injuries include:

  • Strains

  • Sprains

  • Needle sticks

But this research discovered newly-licensed nurses may be subject to a higher likelihood of hazards, mostly due to heavier workloads, longer hours and inexperience.

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July 30, 2015

Trench Collapse Work Injury Results in $424K OSHA Fine

A construction company has been ordered by federal regulators to pay nearly $425,000 in penalties for six egregious violations of workplace safety leading to the near-death of a worker who was buried in an eight-foot trench. pipework.jpg

The collapse happened fast, within a matter of seconds. His co-workers rushed to his side and helped to dig him out with their bare hands. Then, just moments after they pulled him to safety, the trench, which was unprotected, collapsed again.

The worker was severely injured and had to be hospitalized.

Now, following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the company was found to violate 16 total safety violations, with of those being the more serious, "willful violations" for failing to protect its workers. OSHA investigators say the construction company was aware the site was dangerous, and yet did not take the necessary, adequate measures to protect workers.

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July 27, 2015

Jarrett v. Dillard - Employer President Personally Liable for Workers' Comp Payments

In North Carolina, any company with more than three employees is required to carry workers' compensation insurance.
There are a few exceptions in which smaller companies may required to do so, and some others in which larger companies may be able to forgo it. However, that's the general rule.

When companies fail to do this, they may be subjected to fines and criminal actions, as well as lose the exclusive remedy protection normally afforded them, which means employees who are injured retain the right to sue the firm for personal injury. The firm may also still be responsible for paying those benefits to any workers injured.

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July 25, 2015

D & D Tire v. Ouellette - Workers' Comp Immunity for Contractor Negligence

If you are injured at work as a result of negligence from a co-worker, that co-worker would be protected from a personal injury lawsuit per the exclusive remedy provisions of South Carolina workers' compensation law.
This is the provision that shields the employer and any employees from litigation, even if they acted with negligence. (Intentional acts may be different.)

In some cases, contractors could claim co-worker status (or "statutory co-employee" and therefore also be protected under exclusive remedy provisions. But this is not an absolute.

In fact, there have been a number of cases in which independent contractors have been successfully sued for personal injury claims, even after the employee has collected workers' compensation.

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