The time to act on these rights is immediately. That’s because workers do not have unlimited time to gather evidence and file a claim. Even though the law allows the injured worker latitude in failing to give written notice of the incident, all claims have to be filed with the North Carolina Industrial Commission within two years.
Failure to file a Form 18 within this allotted time frame will result in the claim being forever barred, with no chance of recovery – not matter how strong your case. Even then, once the forms have been filed, the case cannot be allowed to languish. The courts will not wait forever.
This was underscored recently in the case of Anderson-Green v. N.C. DHHS, where the case dragged on for years before the court granted a favorable ruling to the employer because the claim ran afoul of the statute of limitations.
Plaintiff had worked for defendant as a health care technician at an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Raleigh. In that role, she was responsible for directly caring for patients by taking their vital signs, helping with daily living activities, taking them to have laboratory testes done and providing “unlicensed therapy” by sitting an talking with them and helping them sort through their daily problems.
In April 2003, when plaintiff had been on the job several months, she was attacked by a patient who beat her in the head. She would later say she suffered headaches long-term after this attack, but she did not seek medical treatment after this incident.
Three months later, a patient attacked her from behind while she was locking a door. Patient began hitting plaintiff in the head and pulling out chunks of her hair. As patient tried to grab for key around her neck, she kicked and punched plaintiff repeatedly in the pelvic area. Finally, security intervened. Plaintiff was treated with pain medication and again only took a few days off.
It was a Friday, so she took the weekend off, plus a few more days, and then returned to work.
A few months after that, plaintiff as again attacked from behind, this time as she was sitting in the entrance of a dining room. A patient grabbed her hair and swung the chair out from underneath her so that plaintiff fell to her knees. Plaintiff was reportedly jerked violently by the head back and forth for approximately four minutes before two others intervened. By then, she had lost consciousness. She never returned to work after that day.
She filed Form 18 and a Form 33 for both incidents, seeking permanent and total disability via workers’ compensation for physical injuries as well as psychological and emotional damage.
Employer agreed to pay some medical expenses, but denied long-term disability because it had received no medical evidence she was incapable of working, as she had refused to undergo an independent medical evaluation.
A hearing was scheduled for June 2004, but was continued at plaintiff’s request. The day before the hearing that September, she requested another continuance, which was granted. Then she did not show for the hearing in September, and the commission closed the case. Plaintiff asked that it be reopened in late 2005, and that request was granted. But then for four years, plaintiff took no action, and the case was removed from the active docket. Three years after that, plaintiff again requested to have her claim heard. DHHS filed a form asserting the claim was barred by the statute of limitations.
The commission agreed, noting it had been 10 years since she had last worked at the hospital by that point, and the defendant was unfairly prejudiced by the delay.
That decision was recently affirmed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
The case underscores why it is important to hire a dedicated law firm that will follow through on your claim to ensure you receive the benefits to which you are entitled.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Anderson-Green v. N.C. DHHS, March 1, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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