Taylor v. Howard Transportation, Inc. – Jurisdiction in NC Workers’ Comp Cases

Work forces today are more fluid than ever. Employees work from home. Some may travel extensively out-of-state as part of their work.
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

If these conditions are not met, the state industrial commission will not have jurisdiction to hear the claim or decide benefits. This does not mean employees are without remedy. They may still be able to seek benefits in a different state. Consultation with an experienced Asheville workers’ compensation attorney is necessary to determine the best venue for these claims.

The recent case ofTaylor v. Howard Transportation, Inc., before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, was one such case in which confusion arose.

Worker was a trucker for a Mississippi-based company. He resided in North Carolina and in 2002, filed an application with the truck company recruiter in Mississippi. The company confirmed eligibility and arranged to have him taken to Mississippi for testing and training. He worked for several months for that firm before resigning.

The following year, a recruiter for the same firm sent him a notice inviting him to apply to work for the company again. Worker called the recruiter from his North Carolina home and indicated he would do so if he could have access to a better truck and if he could be assigned to a different dispatcher. Company agreed to the conditions and again sent him to Mississippi for additional testing and training before hiring him.

Two years later, plaintiff was at a Maryland truck stop in the course of transporting a load for employer when he was struck by a pickup truck and sustained injury. He filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, but he did so in North Carolina.

A deputy commissioner ruled the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, per N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-36. Full commission reversed that finding and remanded the case for a full evidentiary hearing. Defense appealed and appellate court ruled the full commission’s decision, an “order,” was non-appealable. The deputy commissioner then awarded temporary total disability benefits to worker.

Defense appealed this order to the full commission, which affirmed, albeit with some modifications. Defense then appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. That court recently vacated the award.

In examining state statute, the company was not based in North Carolina and neither was worker’s principle place of employment. The primary question was where the employment contract was made. While the worker had spoken with the recruiter over the phone while in North Carolina, the court found that did not constitute the finalization of the contract. Case law has established the “last act test” in order to determine where an employment contract is established. That means the final necessary act of binding obligation has to be done in North Carolina in order for the employment contract to have been considered for workers’ compensation purposes.

In this case, the worker’s contract wasn’t finalized until he went to Mississippi.

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

Additional Resources:
Taylor v. Howard Transportation, Inc., May 5, 2015, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries
Devine v. Great Divide Insurance Company: Workers’ Compensation Appeals, May 23, 2015, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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