North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog

Articles Posted in North Carolina Workers’ Compensation

A landscaping worker employed by the North Carolina city of Greenville, about 2.5 hours east of Greensboro, was injured while driving a city truck. A third-party driver ran a red light and crashed into him. The force of the collision caused his truck to collide with a tree, breaking the windshield and causing the airbags to deploy with force.
Plaintiff was transported to a local hospital and treated for bruises on his head, broken ribs and a number of injuries to his pelvis, neck, back and hip. An MRI revealed a concussion, but he was discharged from the hospital the next day.

That was five years ago. The issue of his workers’ compensation benefits has been an ongoing one, recently weighed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Wilkes v. Greenville. Plaintiff recently appealed a finding by the North Carolina Industrial Commission indicating his injuries weren’t work-related and that he was no longer entitled to receive temporary total disability benefits. The appellate court reversed in part, vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings.
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Ride-sharing company Uber is now available for services in North Carolina in Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Outer Banks, Piedmont Triad, Raleigh-Durham and Wilmington. In South Carolina, it’s available in Charleston, Columbia and Greeneville.
This is a convenient service for users hoping to catch a quick, affordable ride in a clean vehicle, ready to pick them up at their location within minutes.

But Uber has never fashioned itself a company that provides rides. Rather, it has insisted, it is a technology company that connects riders to rides. Drivers, the company insists, are independent contractors who must pay for their own liability insurance, are paid by the ride and aren’t entitled to benefits such as unemployment or workers’ compensation.
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Workers’ compensation covers medical expenses, lost wages and other costs when an employee has suffered a work-related injury. But these injuries need not always be physical in nature.sadness4.jpg

There are some cases in which emotional injuries or psychological injuries may be compensable. For example, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in the 1986 case of Hogan v. Forsyth Country Club that emotional injuries sustained due to workplace incidents may in fact be covered. To limit these claims for emotional distress, courts have ruled, would be against public policy.

When work-related, psychological conditions are the result of a work-related accident, workers’ compensation claims are not barred, courts have held.
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Workers’ compensation is intended to provide accessible, adequate coverage of medical bills and lost wages to workers who have suffered an on-the-job injury.
Injuries that do not occur at work or aren’t work-related generally aren’t going to be covered. However, there may be some exceptions if the work injury aggravates a pre-existing condition or if a subsequent, non-related work injury exacerbates a previous work injury.

The case that highlights one of these possibilities is Washington County Sch. Dist. v. Labor Comm’n, weighed recently by the Utah Supreme Court. Justices were asked to address the causal connection an employee has to prove between an initial, compensable workplace injury and a subsequent non-workplace injury in order to obtain workers’ compensation coverage for the second injury.
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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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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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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.
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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Work forces today are more fluid than ever. Employees work from home. Some may travel extensively out-of-state as part of their work.
While these things can benefit industry and commerce, they can muddy the waters where workers’ compensation is concerned.

Specifically where accidents occur out-of-state, the N.C. Gen. Stat. ยง 97-36 says that when workers are injured in an accident that occurs out-of-state, employees and/or dependents are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits only in the following circumstances:

  1. If the employment contract was made in North Carolina
  2. If employer’s principal place of business was in North Carolina
  3. If worker’s principle place of employment was in North Carolina

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One of the most common forms of treatment for pain following a work injury is medication. We are often lulled into a false sense of security about the safety of pain medication.
Not only is it highly addictive, but certain combinations can be dangerous too.

Illness or death caused by prescription medication taken in accordance with a doctor’s orders for a work-related injury may be compensable – as much so as the underlying injury that prompted the person to receive the medication. (There could also be grounds for a medical malpractice claim, though that would be an entirely separate matter.)
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