North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog

Young, Hispanic immigrant construction workers employed by small companies have the highest risk of suffering an on-the-job injury. That’s according to a new study conducted by NIOSH and the American Society of Safety Engineers.
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The agencies were interested in examining the safety of individuals with overlapping vulnerabilities. A number of factors contribute to the likelihood of an injury, such as race, class, gender, the growth of the temporary workforce and the weaknesses of companies with 20 or fewer workers.

The report identifies three groups – Hispanic immigrants, small business employees and young workers that, separately, have an elevated risk of job-related injury and poor health outcomes when an accident does occur. When a worker shares all of these traits, the researchers found, the risk of injury is even higher.
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News recently broke that a zookeeper working at a zoo and aquarium in Nebraska was hospitalized after suffering a bite from a juvenile Komodo dragon, a carnivorous lizard with poisonous venom. Despite earlier reports the woman was critically inured, she was treated, released and expected to recover fully.
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A spokeswoman for the zoo later reported the worker had a wound on her hand that required stitches. While adult Komodo dragons can weigh up to 300 pounds, reach 10 feet in length and run for short bursts up to 11 mph, this was one was young and relatively small: Only about 4 feet long and weighing just 10 pounds.

At the time of the incident, the zoo worker was reportedly caring for the animal while it was in its cage.
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Most employers within South Carolina are required to carry workers’ compensation for their employees to cover expenses related to work injury or illnesses.
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However, these claims sometimes hinge on whether:

  1. The employer was statutorily required to carry coverage
  2. The worker in question was in fact an “employee” per the understood legal definition

Although seemingly simple, these points are not always straightforward.

Take the recent case of Ferguson v. New Hampshire Insurance Company, recently weighed by the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
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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.
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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. § 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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Certain matters of fact in a workers’ compensation lawsuit may require special explanation by an expert witness. These matters can range from injury causation to extent of injury to the types of treatments deemed reasonably necessary.
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In the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Fields v. H&E Equipment Services LLC, the issue was the employee’s inability to find other work.

This may not seem a highly technical issue on the surface, but it can be when the court is comparing the types of injuries a worker sustained to the kinds of jobs available that he or she can reasonably do.
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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.
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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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It is an unfortunate fact that many victims of debilitating injuries eventually become seriously addicted to the opioid painkillers their doctors have prescribed during the recovery process. According to a recent news article from Insurance Business, around 30 plaintiffs have filed a series of civil actions alleging defendant doctors and medical treatment facilities over-prescribed narcotic painkillers in such quantities that caused plaintiffs to become addicted to the opioid-based medications.

pills2.jpgThe majority of painkillers listed in the respective lawsuits were Vicodin, OxyContin, Lortab, and Xanax (technically a benzodiazepine), and were prescribed for injured workers who suffered on-the-job accidents and automobile injuries. They were able to do this under a recent West Virginia state court decision that allowed workers’ compensation victims to sue medical providers for allegedly over-prescribed and over-dispensing narcotic medications.
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Insurance companies and employers are constantly accusing workers of faking or exaggerating an injury or illness to claim workers’ compensation benefits to which they are not entitled. Here is an example of the lengths these companies will go to try to prove a worker is not really disabled as seen in a recent feature from ABC News.

binoculars-a-1020910-m.jpgNews reporters accompanied private investigators who were conducting surveillance on a rural farm to catch the supposedly injured farmer engaging in any activities which tended to show was not truly as injured as he claimed. Investigators were wearing full camouflage, operating at night, and used night vision cameras and optics as part of their surveillance efforts.

The team then jumped from their SUV and attempted to covertly move through a rural field to get to a suitable observation post. The investigators waited hours until the sun had risen and literally danced with excitement as they captured the man appearing to carry some type of object which was about the size of shoebox into his pickup truck. As the reporter noted “it hardly feels like enough to call the farmer a fraud”, but the investigators proudly proclaim this is enough for them to start building a case against the man. They say they are interested in finding any proof that he may be working. It should be noted there have been no charges filed against this man or claims of workers’ compensation fraud as of the time the news feature was published.
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According to a recent news article from Business Insurance, South Carolina legislatures are considering a bill, which would allow employers to opt-out of the requirement to purchase a workers’ compensation insurance policy by providing an alternative benefits plan.

law books.jpgSouth Carolina is only one of four states that have either already enacted an alternative benefits opt-out law or is considering doing so. The first state to do this was Texas, which actually adopted the law over 100 years ago. Oklahoma enacted a workers’ compensation opt-out law in 2013, and Tennessee is in the process of creating this type of legal exception.
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Devine v. Great Divide Insurance Company, an appeal from the Supreme Court of Alaska, involves claimant who was working at concrete pouring job site when he was attacked by another employee. Claimant was the owner of Company B.

traffic-warning-sign-1-1102879-m.jpgAccording to the court record, there were two independently owned and operated masonry contractors operating in the remote geographic area in which this work-related accident occurred. One of the companies (Company A) had purchased a general commercial liability (GCL) policy but did not purchase a workers’ compensation insurance policy.

On the day of the work-related accident, there was only one cement truck available for rent, and both Company A and the other company (Company B) needed the truck, as they both had jobs to perform. Company A had already reserved the truck that day. Company A offered to help Company B with its concrete pouring job, so the work would be completed sooner, and the truck would be available for Company B’s job. Company A accepted help from the other company but did not pay Company B for its work on the first concrete pouring job.

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