North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Claims Must be Timely Filed

With very few exceptions, workers’ compensation claims in Greensboro must be filed within two years. workers.jpg

Failure to do this will usually result in a worker forever forfeiting the right to pursue benefits. Per North Carolina G.S. 97-58, which covers the time limit for filing workers’ compensation claims, workers have either two years from the date of injury or illness (or the date they learned of the injury or illness) to initiate the process.

The only exceptions are for occupational disease like asbestosis or mesothelioma or silicosis or lead poisoning, where the worker might not know he or she has been sickened until years or even decades later.

While statutes of limitations are strictly adhered to by courts across the country in these matters, the case of Ladner v. Zachry Construction reveals that there can sometimes be exceptions under certain circumstances.

Court records indicate that the plaintiff in this case worked for a subcontracting construction firm for five years when he suffered an injury to his back while dismantling a piece of scaffolding. As a result of this injury, he immediately fell to the ground and was taken to the on-site safety and first-aid trailer. The injury was reported to his supervisor, and he remained in the trailer the rest of the day. He missed the next several days of work.

When he returned, his symptoms continued to worsen.

After spending three weeks reporting to work only to sit in the trailer all day, the worker saw a doctor. That doctor referred him to a neurosurgeon, who treated the worker for more than a year until it was determined he had reached maximum medical improvement in May of 2008.

The following December, this worker and several others were laid off.

The following August, he filed a complaint with the state’s industrial commission, seeking compensation for a work-related injury he had suffered nearly three years prior. In Mississippi, where this case was filed, just like in North Carolina, there exists a two-year statute of limitations on workers’ compensation claims.

The company responded to the worker’s claim by admitting liability for the injury, but asserting that the claim was time-barred by the statute of limitations.

The worker, meanwhile, indicated that he continued to work during his treatment and receive regular wages from the time he was injured until the time he reached MMI, though during that time, he did not perform his regular duties. Instead, he contended that most of his time was spent sitting or laying in the safety trailer, although he did occasionally help with light duty assignments such as filing paperwork and serving as a stand-by attendant.

The company did not refute these claims.

The administrative law judge concluded that the worker had received wages in lieu of compensation, thereby tolling the statute of limitations, which meant that the worker was still within the two-year time frame by the time he filed his claim.

However, that finding was appealed to the state’s industrial commission, which in turn reversed it, finding that the worker’s injuries were not so little that he failed to earn his wages, meaning his situation didn’t qualify as wages in lieu of compensation, which meant his filing was time-barred.

That ruling was then appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed the order. And then that ruling was again appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed it 7-3.

However, upon appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, the ruling was reversed. In that state, voluntary payment of wages by an employer to an injured worker who either doesn’t work or does so little that he is not really earning his wage is considered a waiver of a formal claim. The statute of limitations is tolled if these payments were made on account of recognition of compensation liability.

Usually, such agreements aren’t formal, so the court takes into account the circumstances surrounding the payment. Here, the court found that his wages were offered in lieu of workers’ compensation payments. Therefore, his claim was made within the two-year window of limitations.

Such an outcome isn’t guaranteed in your case. The best course of action in these situations is to act as quickly as possible.

If you have been injured at work in Greensboro, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Ladner v. Zachry Construction, Jan. 30, 2014, Mississippi Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Employer Pressure May Unduly Impact Rights After Injury, Jan. 26, 2014, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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