Wilson v. Conagra Foods – Immediate Reporting of Work Injury

Workers, by both North Carolina law and many employment policies, are required to give immediate notice to their employers when they are injured on-the-job.shovel

Failure to report injuries right away could result in denial of workers’ compensation benefits, as well as sanctions from the company. Of course, some companies have taken this a step too far and punished employees where it was impossible to know the injury would be serious (i.e., a splinter that later got infected) or where immediate reporting was not feasible.

Your workers’ compensation lawyer will help to protect your rights, but you must preserve your claim first by reporting it. 

The North Carolina Industrial Commission lays out the following steps for injured employees;

  • Seek appropriate medical treatment;
  • Tell your health care provider that your injury is related to your work so that the health care provider can bill your workers’ compensation provider;
  • As soon as possible, inform an appropriate manager of your employer or owner of company. If you are unable to personally report the injury, ask a family member, friend or health care provider to do so;
  • As soon as practical after the accident – and within 30 days – give written notice to your employer of the accident, giving the date, time and brief description of the accident;
  • Follow your physician’s instructions regarding medical treatment.

Many states have similar requirements for injured workers. In a case out of Idaho, a worker’s failure to immediately report her injury resulted in her suspension and violation of policy. She was then denied unemployment benefits and also workers’compensation benefits.

The case was complex from the start because worker had in the past been treated for similar injuries that were not related to her job. However, inconsistent statements to health care providers, along with failure to immediately report the injury to her supervisor, resulted in a host of problems for her.

According to Idaho Supreme Court records in Wilson v. Conagra Foods, plaintiff sought treatment in an emergency room in February 2008 for back pain that radiated down her right leg. Although she said she’d suffered this condition for about a year prior, she was suffering a flare-up and rated her pain level a 10 out of 10. An MRI she underwent two weeks later showed a herniated disc and some disc degeneration. She received pain treatments for several months.

More than two years later, she sought additional treatment for her lower back pain and right leg sciatica. She told a health care provider at that time she’d suffered the herniated disc three years earlier, but had recently suffered a re-injury while shoveling potatoes at her job. At the time, she was working at defendant facility as a temp. She was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, but did not follow up with him until several months later.

In between that time, she began working as a full-time employee (rather than a temp) for defendant employer.

In April 2011, two months after she started her new position, she visited a nurse practitioner for back pain, saying she’d suffered injury six months earlier but it worsened two days earlier while shoveling potatoes. The following day, she sought care in a hospital emergency room for this injury, saying it had been increasing the past several weeks after starting while shoveling potatoes.

Two days later, her employer learned of this hospital visit and, referencing company policy, suspended her for not immediately reporting her on-the-job injury.

A week later, she visited another doctor, saying she was suffering lower back pain and it had been ongoing for four years and had worsened in recent weeks, but was not work-related. Doctor agreed and cleared her for work.

Nonetheless, several days later, employer fired her for misconduct for failing to report her injury.

She then sought workers’ compensation benefits, which the employer denied.

She requested a hearing and in the meantime, underwent two back surgeries.

At the hearing, she presented expert medical testimony that her pre-existing condition was aggravated by work injury. Still, defendants presented expert medical testimony that the injury was not aggravated by work duties. The commission sided with the employer.

Plaintiff argued that by terminating her for misconduct for failure to report a work injury, employer had admitted that she suffered an on-the-job injury. Commission rejected this argument because the termination was not based on the acknowledgement that a work accident had actually occurred.

Finding no reversible error, the state supreme court affirmed.

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

Additional Resources:

Wilson v. Conagra Foods, March 23, 2016, Idaho Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Should Good Samaritan Worker be Denied Workers’ Comp? March 24, 2016, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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