Beard v. Wakemed – Healthcare Workers Often Suffer On-the-Job Injury

Health care is the most dangerous industry for injuries and illnesses, according to researchers with think tank Public Citizen. Consider that 45 percent of all workplace violence incidents in the U.S. resulting in lost work days occur in the health care industry. Meanwhile, the number of work-related back injuries among orderlies, attendants, nurses and nurses aides are higher than for any other industry, and they cost an estimated $7 billion annually. stethascope2.jpg

In general, the rate of injuries requiring time of work was four times higher for health care workers than for all workers nationally. Despite this, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) conducts relatively few inspections, according to study authors. Even when inspections are carried out, there is often an absence of defined safety standards.

So it’s unsurprising that a large number of workers’ compensation cases in North Carolina involve health care workers.

Our Asheville work injury lawyers are committed to ensuring health care professionals receive the best legal representation in their claim for fair coverage of injuries and illness.

Unfortunately, for as much as health care institutions focus on the well-being of the public, they are not always eager to pay the appropriate amount of workers’ compensation benefits when one of their own is hurt. Case-in-point: Beard v. Wakemed, heard earlier this year by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

According to court records, plaintiff – a nurse – was pulling a patient into their bed and felt a sharp pain in her lower back. The pain persisted, causing her significant discomfort, and she filed a workers’ compensation claim.

A week later, the employer flat-out denied the claim, indicating the injury was not the result of an accident, not the result of a specific traumatic incident and did not arise out of and in the course of employment. Further, the employer questioned the nurse’s credibility based on inconsistent/inaccurate/contradictory information and indicated other defenses had become known by employer.

Plaintiff requested her claim be assigned to a hearing. The deputy commissioner of the Industrial Commission entered an opinion, indicating worker had suffered a compensable injury, and defendants should pay temporary total disability, as well as all past and future medical expenses, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Defendants appealed. The single commissioner’s ruling was affirmed by the full commission.

Defendants then filed a motion to reconsider, to which plaintiff objected because it wasn’t timely filed. The motion to reconsider was denied. Defendants then appealed the opinion, award and order denying motion to reconsider.

The full commission again affirmed.

Defendants argued plaintiff was “not honest” and only presented her own testimony as evidence of her injury. However, evidence was presented that included statements by several medical professionals indicating plaintiff sustained compensable injury. Further, a plaintiff’s testimony is evidence the commission may consider and weigh for credibility. Even if that were the only evidence submitted (though it wasn’t) there is no legal standard indicating the commission couldn’t base a finding in favor of a worker solely on that.

Defendant argued commission did not make a finding of fact on several assertions, including plaintiff’s reprimand for failing to assist a co-worker on a problematic procedure. The commission countered there may not be a finding of fact on every shred of evidence presented, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t weighed against the totality of everything else. If the evidence is not material to the case, it may not be cited, but that doesn’t mean it was ignored.

Ultimately, the commission found defendants presented no valid legal argument on which to reverse the earlier finding of compensable injury.

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

Additional Resources:
Beard v. Wakemed, Feb. 4, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries
Average Salaries for the Most Dangerous U.S. Jobs, Oct. 31, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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