February 14, 2015

Sullwold v. Salvation Army - Work-at-Home Heart Attack Compensable

Working from home is part of a growing trend that saves workers the commute and saves companies money. treadmill1.jpg

According to the American Community Survey, telecommuting has risen nearly 80 percent between 2005 and 2012, meaning some 2.6 percent of Americans are now working from home. That figure includes full-time employees, as well as those who only partially log hours from their own address.

While an increasingly mobile workforce has had a number of positives, it does have the potential to muddy the waters as far as workers' compensation is concerned. That's because it's much easier to prove an injury was work-related when it happens on the job site. But when injuries occur at someone's home - albeit, when they are working - it may be tougher to make a case.

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February 12, 2015

Nicholson v. SC Dept. of Social Services - SC Supreme Court Weighs Work Falls

For the second time in a month, the South Carolina Supreme Court took on the issue of idiopathic injuries in the workplace. While the definition for the term "idiopathic" does include the word "unexplained," that's not exactly the way the court interprets it for purposes of granting workers' compensation benefits.
It's true that work injuries must arise out of and in the course of one's employment. But when an injury - such as a fall - occurs at work, and there is no explanation for why, that does not mean the injuries are not compensable. What would render the injuries the result of an idiopathic incident would be if the cause was something personal to the injured; something that could have occurred anywhere.

Examples might be a heart attack, stroke, seizure or diabetic episode - things that could happen to the worker at any place and time, but just happened to have occurred at work. Even then, if some work-related condition exacerbated the incident or injury, the commission might still find the injury partially compensable.

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February 10, 2015

Demetres v. East West Construction, Inc. - Near-Fatal Bulldozer Injuries and Exclusive Remedy

After being nearly killed by a subcontractor employee operating a bulldozer, a former general contractor supervisor, of North Carolina, attempted to pursue a negligence lawsuit against the subcontractor and its worker.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Demetres v. East West Construction, Inc. the subcontractor was protected per the exclusive remedy provision of Virginia's workers' compensation law.

Exclusive remedy means injuries arising out of and in the course of one's employment are only compensable by workers' compensation - so far as the employer is concerned. While third-party negligence lawsuits are sometimes pursued, co-workers, sub-contractors and general contractors may be protected under this provision too, depending on the details of the relationship and incident.

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February 8, 2015

Barnes v. Charter 1 Realty - South Carolina Supreme Court Weighs Idiopathic Injury Claim

In a South Carolina workers' compensation claim, it is not enough that the incident/injury/illness happened while claimant was at work. The law says it must arise out of and in the course of one carrying out work or work-related duties.
When injuries occur at work as the result of some spontaneous or obscure or unknown cause, this is referred to as an "idiopathic injury," and it's important for injured workers to understand because it could be the basis of a claim denial, if your company/insurer is successful in asserting it.

Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court took on a purported case of idiopathic injury in a workers' compensation claim in Barnes v. Charter 1 Realty.

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February 6, 2015

South Carolina Appeals Court Remands Workers' Compensation Case for Further Review

The vast majority of companies in South Carolina are required to carry valid workers' compensation insurance to cover employees in the event of a work injury.
However, if an insurance company enters a period of financial difficulty and can't meet its obligations, the state insurance commissioner will step in and initiate a process to help the company regain its financial footing. If it's ultimately determined the company can't be helped, the commissioner will request a court order for liquidation, and the payouts will be covered by a guaranty association.

Those claims covered under a guaranty association are subject to more stringent caps for payouts.

While the guaranty does provide an additional layer of protection for workers insured by now-insolvent companies, it can also create a layer of complication, as the recent case of Ex parte: South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guarantee Association revealed. The case, which was actually a consolidation of 10 separate workers' compensation claims, was recently weighed by the South Carolina Court of Appeal, which vacated an earlier order and remanded the case for further analysis.

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February 4, 2015

Rose v. JJS Trucking - SC Appeals Court Weighs Work Injury Case

Not all companies required by South Carolina law to carry workers' compensation insurance actually do so. In these cases, where the employer was a subcontractor, South Carolina Code Section 42-415 requires the higher tier subcontractor, contractor or project owner and/or that firm's insurance carrier be responsible for work injury coverage.
That contractor may then later be eligible for reimbursement through the Uninsured Employers' Fund.

The idea is to provide swift relief to injured workers. It also provides incentive for contractors and project managers to thoroughly vet the companies with which they are working.

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February 2, 2015

Report: NC Work Deaths Double, 20 Deadliest Jobs Outlined

The latest report by the North Carolina Department of Labor indicates work-related deaths nearly doubled last year when compared to those killed a year earlier.
State officials reported 44 people died in work-related accidents in 2014, compared to 23 in 2013. That means last year has the distinction of the most on-the-job deaths in the state since 2011, when 53 were killed.

Nearly all were men, all were characterized as "laborers" and they ranged in age from 20 to 82. The average age was 44.

Accounting for a large part of the increase was the construction industry. Of the 44 who lost their lives in 2014, 19 of those were construction workers. That's 12 more than suffered a fatality in that sector a year earlier.

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January 30, 2015

Moreau v. Transp. Ins. Co. - Asbestos Illness Medical Expense Reimbursement Disputed

In the case of Moreau v. Transp. Ins. Co., the workers' compensation insurance carrier for a Montana mining company had agreed to accept liability for medical expenses of a former worker who died of asbestos-related lung cancer.
However, the company had established and funded a medical plan to pay for the medical expenses of workers injured by exposure to asbestos, and both the plan and employer declined to accept the insurer reimbursement for this worker. The worker's widow, as personal representative of his estate, asserted the reimbursement should be paid either to his estate or to a charity chosen by the estate.

But the insurer wouldn't pay the money for this purpose, so the estate filed an action with the state Workers' Compensation Court. Initially, the petition was denied on grounds it lacked jurisdiction because the estate lacked standing. However, the Montana Supreme Court disagreed, reversing and remanding.

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January 29, 2015

Making Workplace Accident Prevention a 2014 Goal

The New Year means it is time for resolutions. Employers need to resolve to take workplace seriously safety this year and to do what they can to try to improve work conditions. business-men-silhouette-1014502-m.jpg

Employees can also do their part to protect themselves this year. Workers should resolve to know their rights when it comes to safety issues and to speak up if they believe something is wrong on their job site.

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January 25, 2015

OR-OSHA v. CBI Services, Inc. - Monitoring Workplace Safety

Far too many workers suffer on-the-job injuries because employers fail to obey the industry and legal standards for safety.
In a recent lawsuit out of Oregon, the federal regulatory agency that oversees workforce safety sued a company for failure to exercise reasonable diligence to avoid a legal violation amounting to a safety hazard. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration operates throughout the country, and will at times take civil action against companies that break various labor laws, including the failure to follow rules that keep workers safe.

Unless a willful violation results in a worker's serious injury or death, criminal action is usually not taken, but a company can be made to pay civil fines and penalties.

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January 19, 2015

Gun Policies affect Workplace Violence Concerns in North Carolina

In the United States, there are now 22 different states that permit employees to bring guns to work and leave the guns in their cars in the office parking lot. North Carolina was one of the most recent states to approve these new gun laws, along with Tennessee and Missouri. According to WBUR, the loosening of gun laws in North Carolina and other states have left employers debating on what to do to ensure the safety of the workplace. black-and-white-gun-1409524-m.jpg

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), almost two million Americans report victimization by workplace violence each year. There are likely many more cases of violence that are not reported and tallied.

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January 17, 2015

Schultz v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board - Coming and Going Rule Exception

While workers' compensation law can vary from state-to-state, generally the coming-and-going rule is universally recognized as barring coverage of benefits. That is, if a worker is on her way to or leaving from her place of employment, any injuries sustained in the course of that commute are not compensable because they don't occur within the ordinary course of employment.
However, courts across the country have come to different conclusions about what exactly "coming and going" is and how it should be interpreted.

Many states, including North Carolina, have accepted the "premises exception" to the coming and going rule. This essentially holds that injuries arising on the employer's premises (i.e., a parking lot, stairway, etc.) would be payable, even though the worker was hurt while going to or leaving work.

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January 15, 2015

Youth Unemployment in North Carolina Can Exacerbate Work Safety Concerns

In North Carolina, many young people are unemployed. Since 2001, there has been a 255,000 increase in the number of young people in North Carolina who are out of the labor force. Around nine percent, or 22,000, of the youths who are out of the labor force report that they actively are seeking a job. Older adults and adults of prime working age have recovered most of the ground lost during the recession, but the unemployment rate for young workers has only recovered by 55 percent. The decline in young people participating in the labor force has hit multiple age groups, but the youngest group of people aged 16 to 24 has seen some of the biggest drop-offs in labor participation according to NC Commerce. help wanted.jpeg

When young people are not able to find jobs, they do not get the on-the-job training they need to be safe at work.

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January 13, 2015

Paulino v. Chartis Claims - Bad Faith Insurance Claim in Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation claims in South Carolina are bound by exclusive remedy, meaning you can't sue an employer for negligence resulting in a work-related injury or illness. However, there are some cases in which a workers' compensation insurance company can be sued for acting in bad faith.
Of course, insurance companies in general are known for practices intended to modify compensation or sidestep paying claims altogether. However, when these efforts are carried out in bad faith, they are considered to be so egregious as to warrant punitive damage payouts equaling up to three times the amount of the original claim (treble damages).

Some examples may include nonpayment of a legitimate claim, mass denial of claims or internal incentive programs that encourage adjusters to deny payouts.

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January 11, 2015

South Carolina Supreme Court Broadens The Scope of Covered Workplace Injuries

Under South Carolina's workers' compensation rules, employees are covered for any injury that happens while doing their jobs. This can include injuries that happen outside of normal worksites or outside of normal working hours as long as the injuries are directly related to job duties. kickball-606231-m.jpg

Sometimes, it is not clear whether a specific instance of getting hurt at work should entitle an employee to workers' compensation benefits. Workforce.com, for example, recently discussed as case in which the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that injuries that occurred during a voluntary kickball game were covered. This decision broadened the definition of what counts as an injury within the scope of employment.

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