Smith v. Young – Why You Need a Workers’ Compensation Attorney

One of the questions we see crop up frequently in online forums pertaining to North Carolina workers’ compensation is whether workers absolutely need to a hire an attorney or whether they are better off going it alone. gavel1

The answer is that while there is nothing legally preventing you from proceeding with a claim without a lawyer, if you have suffered serious injury, you really should seek legal counsel.

Some examples of situations in which you might not need a lawyer:

  • You missed little or no work due to the injury;
  • The injury was minor, i.e., requiring a few stitches;
  • You don’t have any pre-existing condition;
  • Your employer concedes the injury occurred at work.

But if your workers’ compensation claim is any more complicated than that, discussing it with a lawyer at an initial consultation can give you a sense of the sorts of legal challenges you may encounter and how an attorney can help with your case. 

The reality is, the workers’ compensation system in general has become increasingly skewed against workers. In order to mount a fair fight, you must have adequate legal assistance in your corner.

Plus, those who aren’t lawyers don’t know the legal system. You could technically represent yourself in a murder trial, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Some people believe it’s all about saving money, but the truth is, workers’ compensation plaintiffs represented by lawyers tend to win bigger and more often. Plus, you do not pay the lawyer upfront, as fees are structured on a contingent basis – and paid only if you win.

Still, there are those who take their chances. Take for example the recent case of Smith v. Young, weighed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

According to court records, the plaintiff was injured at some point prior to August 2014 while working. He filed a claim for workers’ compensation.

The company denied the claim and the case went before the industrial commission. The commission concluded that:

  • Employer did not employee three or more employees at the time of plaintiff’s injury, and therefore wasn’t subject to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act;
  • Plaintiff at the time of injury was not an employee for defendant, but rather an independent contractor.

Both of these elements would make plaintiff ineligible for workers’ compensation (though it should be noted, as an independent contractor, plaintiff might have had grounds to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the company).

Plaintiff appealed.

But the North Carolina Court of Appeals refused to even consider his appeal because the appeal he filed failed to comply with numerous provisions of the state’s Rules of Appellate Procedure. There is no proper notice of appeal, there is no indication plaintiff engaged defendants in process of settling the record on appeal, no proof of service upon defendants, no statement of issues for review, no statement of the case procedural history, no statement of grounds for appellate review, no full and complete statement of the facts and no argument that set forth applicable review standards or citation of relevant authority. Plaintiff also failed to give this court a transcript or narrative of the evidence that would allow review of the Commission’s findings of fact.

Although the court took into account his pro se status, the court noted that all of these substantial failures amounted to a gross violation of applicable standards that warranted dismissal of the appeal. And that’s what they did.

Courts will not give you much leeway when you don’t have a lawyer. It is not the role of the court to give you legal advice or guidance on procedure.

At minimum, discuss the case with an attorney to determine whether you may be up against legal hurdles to high to clear on your own.

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

Additional Resources:

Smith v. Young, May 17, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Lloyd v. Michelin North America – Re-Opening a Workers’ Comp Claim, May 3, 2016, Asheville Workers’Compensation Lawyer Blog

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