In any workers’ compensation case, one of the key facts that must be established is causation. welding2.jpg

That is, not only did you suffer an injury or illness, but that the injury or illness was the direct result of a workplace accident or condition.

In some cases, this can be especially difficult when the pain or injury does not immediately manifest. Even pre-existing medical conditions can be compensable under workers’ compensation laws, but there has to be a showing that the employment aggravated or accelerated the condition or combined with the it to produce the condition for which workers’ compensation benefits are sought.
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At The Lee Law Offices, P.A., we pride ourselves on fighting tirelessly for the rights of workers who are injured on the job and then denied just compensation based on misclassification of their status as an employee.
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Companies do this far too often in an attempt to save on workers’ compensation insurance premiums and payouts. By classifying a worker as an “independent contractor” rather than an “employee,” some businesses seek to cut corners. Those injured workers must then take it to court to prove their status and entitlement to compensation for lost wages and medical bills.

But it’s not only workers who are harmed by this practice. Honest, law-abiding companies also pay the price, as noted in a recent opinion-editorial piece published in The Charlotte Observer. The author, Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr., teaches workers’ compensation law at N.C. Central University School of Law.
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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports final statistics are in for 2013 work fatalities, and reveal nearly 4,600 workers were killed on the job that year. (That’s up from the preliminary estimate of 4,405 worker fatalities.)roofingcontractors.jpg

That averages out to 12 workers every single day.

Although that is down from the average of 38 daily worker deaths in 1970, it’s far too high. Overall worker deaths may have fallen, but there are some industries that are known to be more perilous than others.
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Plaintiff in North Carolina Appeals Court workers’ compensation case of Kelly v. Ray of Light Homes, LLC et al. undoubtedly had been through an enormously difficult time.handsholding.jpg

Her adult brother, for whom she was a 24-hour caregiver through a residential care program, died suddenly. Making matters worse was that on the day of his death, she suffered a serious injury when she rushed to his side to help him as he had fallen onto the floor and lost consciousness. Another injury was later discovered which she asserts was related to the incident.

On top of all that, she had to fight her employer to prove the injury was work-related, that those injuries were causally related to the incident and that she was entitled to temporary total disability. She was not successful on each of those fronts.
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About half of all workers’ compensation benefits paid in North Carolina are indemnity benefits. These are benefits paid to workers who are injured with the purpose of replacing or supplementing worker’s lost income.
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Another term for indemnity benefits is “lost wages.” There are two basic types: Temporary and permanent. Temporary benefits are paid to supplement worker wages while the worker is recovering from his or her injury. This could be while worker is unable to work or while he or she returns part-time. Permanent indemnity benefits, meanwhile, are paid to workers who have reached maximum medical improvement and may have suffered permanent disability as a result of the work injury.

The amount of indemnity benefits an employee will receive will depend on the amount of the worker’s pay history prior to the injuries, and most jurisdictions allow for two-thirds of worker’s regular gross pay.
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Last fall, the Raleigh News & Observer published a mammoth, five-part series on the problem of worker misclassification, both nationally and specifically in North Carolina, where the practice is especially pervasive.
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The issue involves companies classifying workers as independent contractors when in fact they are employees. In so doing, these firms can avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits, income taxes or unemployment taxes. Not only does this harm workers, who are left without these protections, it also harms other businesses that are unable to compete with those skimming an estimated 20 percent of their costs off the top. Further, the newspaper reported these actions cost North Carolina $467 million every year in lost tax revenue – and that’s just in the construction industry alone!

What’s more, the report revealed an astonishing 45 percent of the 826 companies participating in HUD-funded projects in this state from 2009 through 2013 misclassified workers.
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It is possible for someone who is injured in a motor vehicle collision to receive workers’ compensation benefits if the vehicle was being driven in the course and scope of employment. accident2.jpg

Of course, where workers are professional drivers, the question of an accident being work-related is fairly simple. However, when a worker is commuting, the answer gets more complex.

Generally, courts in North Carolina and many other states abide by the “coming-and-going-rule.” This allows that workers who are “coming and going” to and from work are not protected under workers’ compensation provisions. The thinking goes that a worker who is coming to or leaving from work isn’t engaged in the business of the employer and therefore is not benefiting the employer and so accidents that occur in this context aren’t compensable.
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Working as a nurse often involves more physical lifting of heavy loads than most people realize. This, in turn, leads to more incidents of work-related injury. According to a recent news feature from Business Insurance, nurses routinely suffer from injuries while lifting patients, even though all hospitals provide lifting aids.

hospital-1385736-m.jpgRecent study data from the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) shows nurses and nursing assistants suffered from more musculoskeletal injuries than many other occupations. The actual numbers depict a rate of nearly 209 lifting injuries per 10,000 full-time workers. This is a significant rate when we consider that, in an average of all industries, there is a rate of around 36 musculoskeletal injuries per 10,000 full-time employees.

Most of these injuries to the nurses and healthcare workers happen when they are attempting to lift or physically move a patient. To help make things easier at hospitals around the country, regulations require a variety of different types of patient lifting systems. This includes state-of-the-art hoists, full-body sling lifts, and overhead lifting systems to help lift patients who are confined to a hospital bed and unable to sit up without help. There is also a great deal of lifting when transporting patients from one bed to another. To help minimize this, they are now using hospital beds as movable gurneys whenever possible. In some hospitals, patient beds are even being used in place of traditional operating tables.
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Some jobs are more dangerous than others. However, we often think of dangers in terms of large, single-event catastrophes, where a worker was healthy on his or her way to work and ended up in the hospital by day’s end. However, many of the job injuries and illnesses result from long-term work involving repetitive tasks.

wristpain.jpgFor example, carpal tunnel syndrome is normally the result of performing repetitive tasks during a long period of time and is not the result of a single workplace accident.

According to a recent news article from Owatonna People’s Press, certain types of work environments are more likely to lead to workplace injuries than others. However, there are certain steps that can be taken at most workplaces to prevent on-the-job injury and illness.
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One of the most important things any injured worker can do is to make sure his or her workplace accident or work-related illness is promptly reported to his or her employer and a claim is filed for workers’ compensation as soon as possible following the incident.

clock-1408511-m.jpgAccording to a recent news article from Business Insurance, it is not only injured employees who can benefit from timely reporting, as this timeliness of claims should also be important to employers. Experts say that encouraging employees to immediately file accident and injury reports can help keep their costs down. However, these same experts warn employers there should never been an employer-controlled penalty for failing to file a workers’ compensation claim in a timely manner. If there is a state statute of limitations on how long a worker can wait to file a workers’ compensation claim, then the state statute, and not an employer’s policy, should dictate any penalty, including dismissal of a claim.
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