North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog

All risks causing injury to employees can be brought within one of three claims:

  • Risks that are distinctly associated with employment;
  • Risks that are personal to the claimant;
  • “Neutral risks,” which have no particular employment or personal character.

The first are almost always compensable. These are injuries that happen on the job and are connected with one’s job performance. The second are typically not compensable, though there are exceptions. These would be injuries like choking while eating your lunch or suffering a seizure at work that wasn’t caused by anything work-related.

Then there are neutral risks. These often garner the most controversy when it comes to courts weighing workers’ compensation benefits. Generally, these are injuries that will generally be covered if they occur on business property, and may be covered if they occur off the property, assuming the risk to complainant is higher than that experienced by the general public due to his or her employment. An act of God may be considered a neutral risk.
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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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One construction worker was killed and two others were seriously injured when a wall collapsed onto them at a construction site in Brooklyn, NY recently. The three men were pinned under a pile of heavy cinder blocks, and one of them didn’t make it out alive. He was just 19-years-old, according to a report of the incident by The New York Times.
It should perhaps be unsurprising that the local Department of Buildings received a complaint earlier this year regarding potentially unsafe working conditions at the site. According to that complaint, workers weren’t wearing face masks during asbestos abatement work. The complaint also noted that a wall on site was “not stable.”

The wall that fell onto the trio was reportedly a retaining wall, though it’s not clear if it’s the same one the previous caller referenced.
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A farm company based in North Carolina, but with operations in Ohio as well, is facing more than $850,000 in fines for a total of 55 labor law violations as reported by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
The federal regulator called the farm company an “outrageously dangerous place to work.” Of those 55 violations, two were willful, 20 were repeat and 30 were serious. In the last 25 years, OSHA reports the company has been cited for more than 350 safety and health code violations.

The company, which is focused on raising and processing poultry, has appealed the findings, citing a recent milestone of passing 900,000 employee hours without a single injury. A total of 3,200 workers are employed at the company. Safety inspectors, on the other hand, say it’s only a matter of time before tragedy strikes, if operations continue without significant changes.
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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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Roadway construction workers provide a critical component of our national infrastructure, and they toil in extremely dangerous conditions to do so.
Take, for example, the recent case of a roadway construction worker who was struck by a driver in Massachusetts, resulting in critical injuries. The crash happened around 2:30 a.m., and the 29-year-old motorist was later arrested for operating under the influence of liquor resulting in serious injury (akin to a DUI causing injury), negligent operation of a motor vehicle and driving with a revoked license.

The victim is a 25-year-old who was working at the site the time of the crash.

Although this crash was not local, this is by no means a unique or isolated incident. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that from 2003 through 2010, there were 962 workers killed at road construction sites. That means these incidents accounted for approximately 8 percent of all construction worker deaths during this period. Nearly all involved a worker being struck by a motor vehicle.
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Workers who are severely and permanently injured as a result of an occupational accident or illness may be entitled to permanent total disability benefits.
There are many different ratings of disability following a work injury in North Carolina or South Carolina that may entitle a worker to long-term benefits. However, only permanent total disability (PTD) benefits may be paid for he duration of one’s life. All others cut off after a maximum 500 weeks (almost 10 years). That includes workers’ compensation death benefits.

But the instances in which lifetime benefits may be afforded are rare and include only the most serious of cases: Severe brain injury, quadriplegia, paralysis or extensive burns over more than a third of the body.
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The nation watched in horror the images of a young television reporter and her cameraman fatally gunned down on live television in Virginia recently. The interview subject was also shot, though her injures were non-life-threatening.
The devastating incident was later determined to have occurred at the hands of a former reporter who had been fired from the local news station two years earlier for repeated confrontations with colleagues. Although he had completed counseling through employee assistance at his supervisors’ behest, he was fired anyway for ongoing belligerence and other issues. When his bosses informed him of his termination, police had to be called to escort him from the building as his coworkers locked themselves in a nearby room to escape his wrath.

But he never technically committed any crime. Station managers hoped that would be the last they would have to worry about him. They were wrong. After killing his two former co-workers and wounding the interviewee, he fled and later killed himself.
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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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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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