Bass v. Harnett County – Failure to Immediately Report Work Injury Can Damage Case

Back injuries are among the most common type of work-related physical injury employees sustain. It’s also one of the toughest to prove work-related causation, especially where previous issues existed.
That’s why immediate medical attention of a back injury – no matter how seemingly minor – is always advised by workers’ compensation lawyers. Receiving an assessment right away can help rule out later assertions that the injuries in question are related to pre-existing conditions, and therefore not compensable.

In order to be payable under state workers’ compensation laws, most claims have to begin with an “injury by accident.” Back injuries are one of the exceptions, with N.C.G.S. 97-2(6) allowing some injuries don’t necessarily rise out of an “accident,” but rather a “specific traumatic incident of the work assigned.”

Our Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers recognize this is a more lax standard than “injury by accident.” Still, success is not a given, as the recent case of Bass v. Harnett County before the North Carolina Court of Appeals shows.

According to court records, the 45-year-old claimant had worked for the county for 10 years in various roles, and at the time of her injury was serving as a paramedic. She responded to calls, provided emergency medical care and helped transport patients to the hospital when necessary.

Prior to the alleged injury, claimant was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, for which she had received various treatments, including back surgery. She also complained of neck and upper back pain, and stiffness and swelling of the hands, hips and joints. Still, as of April 2011, she was cleared to work without restrictions. Three months later, while on a call, claimant said she reached over a non-responsive patient to retrieve a cardiac monitor. She later said she felt a shooting pain across her back as a result, but pushed through the pain because the patient needed emergency care.

Her partner later said she told him of her pain when it came time to lift the stretcher and she could not. She later told her boss she was “having pain” and had “overdone it” the last several days at work. She went home early. However, she did not mention any specific incident that occurred at work that caused her additional pain and injury. She also later sent an e-mail to her boss, indicating she’d been having pain for several days, but it had become unbearable.

She did not seek immediate medical care. Instead, she only missed part of the shift and continued working normally after that, though she did continue to receive treatment for her arthritis. Her doctor did not alter her diagnosis or prognosis after the alleged work injury. She did not mention the work incident to her doctor.

She continued to work full-time until several months later, when she was assigned to light duty due to pain. However, the county was unable to make further accommodations for her restrictions.

In seeking compensation, she later said she did not appreciate the severity of her injury at the time it occurred, which is why she did not seek immediate medical treatment or report it with any specificity to her employer. She also “did not want to admit” she had suffered another injury.

However, the full commission denied her claim, finding her claims not credible and indicating there was no specific traumatic incident she could show caused her injuries. Even if there was, the commission found, the fact that the worker did not immediately seek medical treatment or report the injury to her boss undercut her claim significantly.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

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

Additional Resources:
Bass v. Harnett County, Oct. 7, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Gaytan v. Wal-Mart: Employees and Contractors in Workers’ Compensation Cases, Oct. 4, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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