Kirkman v. North Carolina Dept. of Public Safety – Injury During On-the-Job Training

A number of studies have concluded that injury rates tend to be higher for new workers. For example, The National Safety Council reported just this year that only one in five new workers receive safety training. Certain subgroups of new workers are at especially heightened risk, including those who toil in farming and construction.jail

Study authors note when new workers are performing unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous tasks, they need to be adequately trained – and too often, that’s not happening. Also, workers are often unsure about their rights, and they may not be sure they want to risk speaking up about a possible hazard.

New workers may also be less likely to report work-related injuries when they do occur. This is a mistake because a failure to report the injury right away could diminish the odds of having the company cover the medical costs associated with that injury, or lost wages. Also, reporting injuries forces companies to confront dangers that put all workers at risk, which is important for overall workplace safety.

Still, even new workers need to be able to prove causation. That was the snag hit by the plaintiff in the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Kirkman v. N.C. Department of Public Safety.

According to court records, the plaintiff was appealing a decision by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which denied her claim for workers’ compensation for ongoing symptoms reportedly caused by an injury she suffered during on-the-job training as a corrections officer.

The state’s public safety department hired the plaintiff as a correctional officer in North Piedmont in November 2010, and she continued her work there until February 2013. During the course of her employment, the plaintiff was compelled to participate annually in a program called “Controlled Restraints Defensive Tactics,” specifically for correctional officers. The training lasted a full week and was reported to involve passive resistance techniques as well as techniques to maneuver an escape, baton training, weapon take-away techniques, and other methods of self-defense.

The plaintiff was reportedly struck multiple times during this training. She was reportedly partnered with a man who was a foot taller than her. She testified that during the self-defense drill, she was hit in the head and knocked to the floor. Then, during an inmate-in-cell exercise, her supervisor struck her in the head repeatedly. Although she was wearing a padded helmet, she testified the padding was ill-fitted.

At the time of the training, she did not report any injury and continued her shift. However, she testified she had serious headaches that kept her from sleeping. Although she informed her supervisor that she was having headaches, she did not indicate these were in any way connected to the training until several months later.

At that time, a CT scan indicated a small abnormality in her brain, which prompted an MRI and several subsequent appointments with a neurologist. The employer agreed to pay these costs as medical benefits without conceding that this was a work-related injury.

The plaintiff continued to seek treatment for her headaches and sleeplessness and sought workers’ compensation benefits for these conditions. Her claim was denied, and she sought a hearing.

The doctors who treated her concurred that she was suffering from post-concussion syndrome, but their opinions on causation varied. One said the timing of the injury suggested the training was the cause. Another said he could not guess the cause. Another said that while it was possible the training caused her condition, he would have expected the condition to be more severe if that were the cause.

The deputy commissioner denied her claim for two reasons:

  • The plaintiff was unable to prove the training caused her injury; and
  • She did not have a reasonable excuse for her lack of timely notice for the injury.

This decision was affirmed by the commission and more recently by the state appellate court. The appeals court noted it could not reweigh evidence, but it found no error in the lower court’s ruling.

Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Kirkman v. N.C. Department of Public Safety, Oct. 18, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Talbot v. Cudd – Resolving Conflict in Workers’ Compensation Subrogation Lien Dispute, Oct. 12, 2016, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

Contact Information