December 31, 2014

Lipe v. Starr Davis Co. et al. - NC Workers' Compensation for Asbestos Disease


Workers who are exposed to asbestos while on the job in North Carolina should explore the possibility of workers' compensation benefits - even when they don't learn of the related disease until many years later, as is often the case.
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Usually, workers' compensation benefits are something awarded soon after the injury-causing incident. However, exposure to asbestos causes diseases that are latent, and often asymptomatic until years later.

It's worthwhile to explore the possibility of a third-party lawsuit against the manufacturers of asbestos for such injuries, though it's true those are time-consuming and the burden of proof much higher. In workers' compensation cases, plaintiffs needn't show the employer was negligent in exposing workers to the hazardous material, only that such exposure occurred in the course of employment and proximately caused the illness.

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December 26, 2014

Morales v. Zenith Ins. - Wrongful Death Payout Barred by Exclusive Remedy


The exclusive remedy provisions of state workers' compensation law bar the estate of a worker killed on the job from receiving a $9.5 million wrongful death judgment against his former boss and insurer.
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That's according to a recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, which, like the courts in South Carolina, recognize the exclusive remedy provision as it pertains to work-related injuries and deaths.

In Morales v. Zenith Ins. Co., decedent worker was crushed to death by a palm tree that was being unloaded form a trailer while working for a lawn maintenance firm in 1997. The man's widow accepted a workers' compensation settlement for her husband's death from the employer and the insurer. The release agreement specifically indicated workers' compensation was the exclusive remedy in the case. Prior to the conclusion of that settlement, however, plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit in state court.

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December 26, 2014

Injuries at Holiday Work Parties May Not be Compensable


Every year at this time, companies across the country are hosting holiday parties, lunches and other gatherings. These events are usually not directly related to work, and are intended to simply give the team a break, boost morale or celebrate a good year and thank all for a job well done.
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But of course, injuries can occur at any time. Holiday parties may in some cases result in an increased risk of injury if alcohol is served or if there is a need to drive off site to the event.

Whether injuries stemming from these incidents will be compensable is a difficult question, and the answer is going to rely on a host of factors, including:


  • Whether the company required or expected workers to attend

  • Employees were paid to participate

  • The incident occurred on company property and the property contained an unsafe condition the employer failed to timely correct

  • The employer directly or impliedly endorsed the event and/or derives a benefit from it

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December 22, 2014

Ademovic v. Taxi USA - Professional Driver Work Injuries in North Carolina


North Carolina has a significant number of professional commercial drivers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the state is about 48,000, ranking it 10th in the nation for the most truck drivers.
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Often, these workers face an increased risk for violence. They tend to work solo, often and night, and for commercial passenger drivers, they frequently come in contact with the public.

While any injuries arising out of or in the course of work may fall under the umbrella of workers' compensation benefits, a growing number of employers are getting around this by establishing a system whereby workers are not "employees," but rather "independent contractors." The latter are not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. These workers might have the option to sue the employer, but they'd have to prove negligence. That can be tough in a case of intentional violence by a third-party away from a stationary work site.

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December 20, 2014

Wyatt v. Haldex Hydraulics - Heavy Lifting Accidents at Work


Lifting heavy items is one of the top causes of workplace injury in the U.S., according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than one-third of all injuries resulting in missed work days were the result of back and shoulder injuries - often attributed to cumulative trauma and overexertion. Heavily lifting is often the root cause of both.
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Still, employers and workers' compensation insurers will often try to downplay the physical impact of such activities.

In the recent case of Wyatt v. Haldex Hydraulics, the North Carolina Court of Appeals was asked to consider whether a grant of benefits by the North Carolina Industrial Commission to a worker injured by heavy lifting was proper. Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed.

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December 18, 2014

Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. All Star Lawn - Worker Title Central to Injury Claim


If you are injured on the job in South Carolina, you are almost certainly entitled to compensation. However, the type of compensation you may reasonably pursue is going to depend on your employment classification. Specifically - are you an employee or an independent contractor? worksign.jpg

Employees hurt at work are entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits through their employer's insurer. However, this is their exclusive remedy. They cannot then turn around and sue the company for personal injury damages, though there might be an option for a third-party lawsuit in certain situations. Meanwhile, an independent contractor doesn't have the option to collect workers' compensation. He or she can, however, file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer and/or general liability insurer.

There are pros and cons to each classification, depending on your circumstance. But the most important thing to remember is that just because your employer classifies you a certain way doesn't necessarily mean the courts will agree.

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December 16, 2014

"Tech Injuries" a Growing Health Concern


A large number of American workers spend their days in an office, sitting at a chair, staring at a computer. While repetitive stress injuries, including carpal tunnel, are a rising source of workers' compensation claims, there are other "tech injuries" that are becoming a growing health concern for physicians, employees, as well as employers. Tech injuries are not only caused by certain postures we use when hunched over laptops, tablets, and mobile devices, but other strains on the body that could take their toll over the years, and decades.

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According to a 2010 study, children who were looking at screens more than 2 hours per day were 60% more likely to have a psychological problem in later years. Kids between the ages of 11 to 16 who used iPads suffered back pain. Another study found that 84 percent of young persons, aged 18 to 24 suffered back pain, which lost in an average of 1.5 working days lost per year. These are only a few of the myriad injuries that can set in on younger and older users. With more Americans working on computers rather than performing heavy labor activities, workers' compensation claims are changing as well. Here are some common "tech injuries" reported by American physicians:

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December 12, 2014

North Carolina Pays High Price for Medical Treatment of Workers


Nearly every employee in North and South Carolina is covered by the workers' compensation system. In industries and jobs where the rate of accidents and injuries is higher, employers may have greater workers' compensation claims and costs. According to a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), hospitals in North Carolina pay higher costs for work-related injuries than in most states. The report, titled "CompScore Medical Benchmarks for North Carolina," assessed medical costs between 2007 and 2012 and compared the data to 15 other states. The report concluded that overall, medical payments were higher in North Carolina than in other states.

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In addition to the overall costs, there were also varying medical payments depending on the provider. According to the analysis, North Carolina had the highest cost per claim among the states evaluated in the WCRI study. Despite the higher cost of hospital care, the state had lower "nonhospital" costs related to workers' compensation. Public health officials, legislators, and hospital officials have worked to tackle the issue of rising health care costs in North Carolina and nationwide. In 2009, the state made significant headway in reducing the hospital outpatient reimbursement rate. For most hospitals this rate fell from 95 percent to 79 percent of charges.

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December 10, 2014

World Trade Center Injuries and the Danger of "Rush Jobs"


One of the world's most notorious construction sites has been haunted by a series of accidents and injuries related to dangerous working conditions. Rebuilding "Ground Zero" into the new World Trade center has resulted in many serious injuries that often went unreported. According to a Daily News investigation, over 30 serious injuries that occurred on the site were not reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many of the workers suffered from serious and permanent injuries, including spinal cord fractures and broken bones. The report was based on court documents and city records, medical reports, and OSHA reports.

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Workers endured a host of injuries, including getting struck in the head, falling from scaffolding, or getting struck by a steel plate. These were a few of the severely injured workers whose cases were never reported to OSHA. Construction zones are widely known have some of the most dangerous working conditions. Contractors, subcontractors, property owners, and other managers involved in construction projects must ensure that equipment is safe and maintained, that sites are secure, and that workers are properly trained. In these accident cases, some of the workers were able to recover, but others are still in rehabilitation or suffering from permanent injuries.

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December 6, 2014

One Dead, Four Workers Injured in Bridge Collapse


Construction workers face some of the most dangerous working conditions when on the job. In a recent tragedy, one man was killed and four workers were injured when a pedestrian bridge collapsed at the Wake Technical Community college campus in Raleigh. According to reports, the injured workers were rushed to the hospital after the collapse. On man suffered severe back and neck injuries, another broke his leg and a third was being treated for pain. Three of the four injured workers were forced to undergo surgery after the accident.

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Construction sites are dangerous because of faulty support, heights, potential problems with electricity and a host of other conditions that can pose a risk to workers. In the event of an accident, victims and their loved ones have the right to file a workers' compensation claim and to collect financial benefits to cover lost wages and medical expenses. Though workers cannot traditionally bring claims against their employers, they can bring personal injury claims against third-parties, including property owners, manufacturers, and other subcontractors.

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December 5, 2014

OSHA Investigates: Man Killed By Falling Tape Measure


Freak accidents can occur on construction sites or in other work zones, especially when proper safety precautions are not in place. In a tragic case, a construction worker was killed when a tape measure fell over 50 stories and struck the worker on the head. According to reports, the 58-year-old man was bringing dry wall to the site when he was struck with a tape measure that had fallen from the belt of a worker on the high rise. The object was only 1-pound, but had the power to kill the man who stood below.

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Witnesses reported that before it struck the victim, the tape measure hit another piece of metal approximately 15 feet from the ground, the ricocheted before it caused the fatal injury. The case is a reminder of the importance of proper training and equipment on a worksite. Usually construction sites are gated and include signs that remind workers, visitors, and others that it is a 'hard hat area.' According to reports, the victim was not wearing a hard hat at the time of the accident. He had stopped at another man's truck to have a conversation. Witnesses say it was a clear case of "wrong place, wrong time."

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December 2, 2014

Sheriff Files Workers' Compensation Claim and Lawsuit After Collision


Law enforcement officers face dangerous working conditions when on the job. In addition to the potential for assault or violence, officers could be at risk of a car collision or other accident. In a recent case, a South Carolina sheriff's deputy was injured in an automobile accident that also resulted in the death of a woman.

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According to reports, the sheriff's deputy was riding with his partner when he lost control of the patrol car. Police reports indicated that after losing control, he struck another vehicle resulting in the death of a 45-year-old woman and four other passengers. The sheriff is entitled to workers' compensation benefits and is filing additional lawsuits against Anderson County and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

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November 30, 2014

Cuomo v. Crane Co. - Asbestos Exposure Work Injury Claim


In North Carolina, workers who have suffered on-the-job injury or illness must file a claim in a timely manner. The North Carolina Industrial Commission allows some latitude to injured workers who fail to file written notices of injury with an employer, but all are bound by the requirement that a claim must be filed with the commission within two years of the incident resulting in injury. Otherwise, the claim is forever barred.
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Because the exceptions to this rule are extremely narrow, it's imperative workers suffering occupational injury or illness contact an experienced workers' compensation lawyer right away.

One of the very few exceptions that may be recognized would be occupational illness stemming from asbestos exposure. The reason exceptions are made in these cases is because workers generally do not know whether exposure to asbestos at work has caused them injury or illness until the very late stages of asbestos-related disease (such as asbestosis and mesothelioma). Until symptoms appear, often decades after the fact, workers would have no indication of illness.

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November 28, 2014

Estrada v. Timber Structures et al. - Lapse in Work Injury Insurance Coverage


By-and-large, companies in North Carolina are required to secure approved workers' compensation coverage for their employees, or else face state regulatory sanctions plus possible lawsuits from employees.
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Part of the deal with workers' compensation coverage is that workers don't have to prove negligence, and employers don't have to wrestle with work-related lawsuits. It's intended to be a fast, no-fault way for workers to be compensated for their on-the-job injuries.

But when companies don't hold up their end of the bargain, it can result in headaches for everyone, as the case of Estrada v. Timber Structures and American Zurich Insurance Co. reveals.

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November 25, 2014

Campos v. Daisy Construction Co. - Benefits for Injured Undocumented Workers


The subject of illegal immigration and undocumented workers tends to be a particularly heated political issue, especially when the issue comes to federal and state benefits secured by these individuals.
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Many states, including North Carolina, still recognize the rights of workers injured on the job to be at least minimally reimbursed for medical expenses by the employer's insurer - regardless of the worker's immigration status. This almost changed earlier this year with H.B. 369, which would have stripped these benefits from undocumented workers. The law would have exempted companies from paying workers' compensation to workers who were undocumented where it could be shown employer didn't know worker was here illegally at the time of hiring due to false representations by worker.

The measure was tucked into a bigger bill of criminal reforms, but was later removed amid stark opposition from health care lobbyists worried injured workers would show up en mass without coverage, resulting in more than $1 billion in additional charity care provided by state hospitals. Those costs are also absorbed by taxpayers. Others worried this would encourage companies to hire illegal workers and then turned a blind eye to misrepresented immigration status until it became beneficial to know otherwise.

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