South Carolina courts have long recognized that an employee’s pre-existing health conditions do not prevent that worker from having a compensable work injury – so long as the injury happened in the course of and arose out of the worker’s employment. So workers can’t be denied compensation for a work injury claim simply because he or she was more susceptible to injury than a person who was otherwise healthy. firefighter1

Further, pre-existing injuries that are aggravated by a work injury claim may be compensable. However, there has to be proof of aggravation.

This issue was raised in the recent case of Gill v. City of Charleston, which involved a firefighter injury in West Virginia.  Continue reading

Workers who report their own injuries or the potential for injury as a result of job site safety concerns should not have to fear they will lose their job for it. Sadly, it happens far too often. worksign

It’s called employer retaliation, and it is illegal.

But that doesn’t mean employers don’t try to skirt the rules or inadvertently cross the line. That was part of the reason why last year, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) distributed a guide to employers on best practices for protecting whistleblowers and addressing retaliation.  Continue reading

Roofing is a tough job. The hours are early and long. The physical labor is intense. Exposure to the extreme elements exacerbates all of it.roofing

A study conducted by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) Data Center revealed falls from roofs account for one-third of all fall-related construction deaths from 1992 to 2009. Those most at risk were employed by small companies, mostly on residential construction projects. Immigrant workers and Hispanic workers faced higher risks of injuries.

During the study period, 20,500 people died in the construction industry, and of those, nearly 6,600 died in falls. Of those, 2,163 deaths happened when workers fell from the roof.  Continue reading

Permanent total disability involves a Carolina work injury so severe, the plaintiff is unable to continue with his or her current job – or any type of work, for that matter. snowyroads

N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-29 spells out the definition and rate of permanent total disability. There is a lot to the statute, but essentially, if you have lost the use of both hands, arms, legs, feet or eyes or if you have suffered a severe spinal or brain injury or burns, you would qualify for permanent total disability.

But even when a worker’s injuries are profound, you can expect the employer and/or insurer to fight vigorously to avoid a finding of permanent total disability benefits. Take for example the recent Ohio Supreme Court case of State ex re. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. v. Indus. Comm’n. Continue reading

Two twin teenage brothers were seriously injured when the pressure fryer they were operating in a North Carolina fast-food restaurant exploded in an apparent malfunction.fastfood

The 19-year-olds were reportedly working in the kitchen, frying chicken, when the explosion occurred. It’s not clear what caused the malfunction, but the result was hot grease was sprayed everywhere. Both suffered massive injuries. Taken to a specialty burn center in Georgia, one teen suffered burns on 70 percent of his body, while the other suffered burns on 17 percent of his body.

Incidents involving injury to fast-food workers – especially teens – are nothing new. But it’s deeply troubling that they are still happening, considering that we know the source of most injuries and these incidents are largely preventable.

A survey conducted last year by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) revealed a whopping 87 percent of fast-food workers suffered some kind of injury in the past year, and there were 78 percent who suffered multiple injuries.  Continue reading

Authorities in New Jersey recently reported on an incident involving a Port Authority worker who was struck by a hit-and-run driver, who was later located and arrested for DWI and leaving the scene of a crash.workzone

A host of similar incidents occurred in the Carolinas last year, including:

  • A South Carolina construction worker struck and killed on S.C. 170 in Greenville by an alleged drunk driver who fled the scene, but was later caught.
  • A state Department of Transportation worker killed in Goldsboro on U.S. Highway 70 at a construction site, where a 28-year-old driver had driven into the median. The driver, who was impaired, also had two children in the vehicle with her. The worker was survived by his wife and twin 18-month-old daughters.
  • A construction worker was struck on I-85 in Spartanburg County by a hit-and-run driver. He suffered critical injuries.

Continue reading

An employer must provide workers’ compensation benefits to an auto store clerk who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a gunman robbed the store.sad1

The decision was handed down by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the case of Pickett v. Advance Auto Parts. Interestingly, a similar case was also recently decided by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. That case involved a liquor store employee who was robbed at gunpoint and soon after diagnosed with PTSD. Although the employer in that case tried to argue that robbery was a “normal working condition” for which plaintiff should not be reimbursed, the court disagreed and awarded benefits.

So too did the North Carolina appellate court.  Continue reading

It was, in a sense, a single comma that was the deciding factor in the workers’ compensation case of Falin v. The Roberts Co. Field Services, Inc., recently before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. machineshop

Central to this case is North Carolina General Statute 97-2(22) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which defines “suitable employment” as far as temporary partial disability payments are concerned. When a worker is able to return to work – but not necessarily to the exact same type of work – the company must try to offer suitable employment. If the company does not have suitable alternative employment, it has to continue paying disability benefits. The statute defines suitable employment as one that the employee is capable of doing considering preexisting and injury-related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills and education, and is one that’s located in a 50-mile radius of the worker’s residents at the time of injury or the employee’s current residence if employee had a legitimate reason to relocate. The law further states no one factor will be considered exclusively in determining suitability.

Defendant company in this case offered the partially injured worker a job that was more than 350 miles from his home, but argued that because the statute says, “no one factor will be considered exclusively,” this alone wasn’t grounds to consider the employment not suitable. The appeals court disagreed, noting, “Defendant ignores the grammatical construction of the statute, which separates the 50-mile radius requirement as an entirely separate clause, not jointed to the other “factors” by a comma, and thus not part of that serial list of factors.” Had the statute been written in reverse order, the court ruled, the 50-mile radius rule would have been considered an element in the series. But it isn’t. Thus, the worker won his case. Continue reading

A recent Safety National webinar asked a panel of industry professionals to discuss the top trends and concerns for workers’ compensation this year. The consensus was that in 2016, we should be looking out for:

  • Federal interest in state workers’ compensation programs
  • Changes to claim models
  • Election impactselection

Those issues were expounded on recently in an article by Claims JournalContinue reading

The issue of worker safety and opiod use is one that is garnering increased attention, most recently by South Carolina Public Radio. The station details how not only are injured workers taking the prescribed medication at risk for addiction and overdose (as we mentioned in an earlier work injury blog post on a recent National Safety Council report), but also for new injuries when they show up to work impaired by these substances. pills4

A medical adviser for the National Safety Council reported that he altered his career course – form a family doctor in Clyde, N.C. to an addiction specialist after he saw a scourge of prescription opiods and heroin tear down his small town. He stated three-quarters of his patients had lost their jobs. In some cases, they managed to hide the drug abuse for years, but it had an impact on their productivity and brain function.

The biggest concern as far as that goes, he said, was not only the effect on their work and personal relationships, but on their day-to-day safety – and that of their co-workers – for those who worked in safety-sensitive positions.  Continue reading

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