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Recently, a judge in New Jersey ordered a workers’ compensation insurance company to cover the cost of an injured worker’s medical marijuana. The case marks a potentially precedent-setting opinion. The 39-year-old man in question suffers from lingering pain in his left hand after a work injury he suffered while using a saw nine years ago. His neurologist reports marijuana treatment was appropriate because it offers the chance to lower his prescription opiate use, which has substantial side effects. marijuana

Plaintiff sought reimbursement for medical marijuana he purchased at a local dispensary over the course of several months after being approved and enrolled for the state’s medical marijuana program. The judge’s ruling allows him to be covered for treatment in the future. It is believed this is the first ruling in that state to address whether a workers’ compensation insurer should be compelled to pay for medical marijuana, with the court finding the drug was both necessary and reasonable in this case.

Here in North Carolina and South Carolina, medical marijuana is not an option extended to workers – or anyone else – yet. North Carolina is one of 21 states that has decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug, but HB 78, a bill introduced in 2015 that would have introduced comprehensive medical marijuana legislation for serious conditions and injuries, died in the house judiciary committee. However, a new bill is likely to be introduced this legislative season. In South Carolina last month, on the first day of the legislative season, state lawmakers introduced a comprehensive medical marijuana bill that would allow those seriously ill or injured to access medical marijuana from a state-regulated dispensary.  Continue reading

When an employee of a Mississippi petroleum refinery plant’s contractor was injured on the job, he collected workers’ compensation benefits from the refinery. However, he then sued that same refinery and one of its employees for those injuries. The refinery, in turn, cited the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation law, which in essence says you cannot sue your employer for work-related injuries covered under workers’ compensation law. Seems pretty straightforward, right? factory

However, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the refinery wasn’t the worker’s statutory employer, and therefore wasn’t immune under the exclusivity rule. The case was remanded back to the lower court for trial.

Although workers’ compensation law varies from state to state, the concept of a “statutory employer” is a pretty universal one.  A statutory employer is one who employs another to perform work and who is liable for workers’ compensation according to statutes establishing an employment relationship or liability. Continue reading

Workers who have been injured in multiple work-related incidents should have no problem obtaining benefits for treatment. However, the process can be complicated if those injuries were incurred at different times and while employed by different companies or while the same employer was insured by different companies.back injury

In the recent case of Greenville Country Club (Guard Insurance) v. Greenville Country Club (Technology Insurance), the question was which insurer should be responsible for paying benefits for an injured worker who suffered an aggravation of a previous injury. The question was which injury was aggravated. That was central in determining which insurer had to pay.

The plaintiff, from Delaware, suffered injuries to his lumbar spine in two separate – and compensable – work accidents. The first accident occurred in 2009, when the company was insured by Guard Insurance Group. The second occurred in 2012, when the company was insured by Technology Insurance.

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Missclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees is a major problem in North Carolina. State officials have been heavily focused on it in recent years, with the governor issuing Executive Order No. 83 in December 2015, which created the Employee Classification Section of the North Carolina Industrial Commission. hammer

Although the government and the courts are certainly more aware of the problem, it continues to occur. That’s why even a worker who is denied workers’ compensation benefits on the grounds they are an independent contractor – as opposed to an employee – should consider first talking to a lawyer before giving up. Injured workers may actually be employees, no matter how the company officially classified their status. A determination of whether a worker was an employee or an independent contractor may be based on numerous factors subject to interpretation.

The recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Bentley v. Piner Construction was an appeal from a worker arguing the Industrial Commission made a mistake when it ruled he was an independent contractor rather than an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation. Worker argued the mistake was in basing an opinion and award on a previous opinion and order issued by a deputy commissioner who wasn’t at the hearing and never heard the evidence. The appellate court agreed and ordered a new hearing.  Continue reading

Six workers were injured and had to be hospitalized following a four-alarm blaze at a trucking company in Charlotte recently.firefighter

The workplace fire happened just after 6 a.m., with fire crews being called to the 7000 block of Statesville Road, the Wilson Trucking Corp., where there was a reported explosion and fire on the loading dock. reported they arrived with heavy smoke and flames pouring out of the loading dock. Ultimately, nearly 100 firefighters had work nearly two hours to get the blaze under control. Continue reading

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report on the hazards in the meat and poultry industry, indicating that injury and illness rates among workers had declined between 2004 and 2013 to rates similar to what we see in all U.S. manufacturing. meat

However, as an in-depth NPR analysis points out, this report, a follow-up to a 2005 workplace injury report on the industry, data from federal regulators almost certainly doesn’t capture all incidents and all hazards faced by workers in the meat and poultry industry. Frequently, injuries and illnesses go underreported, as workers are often in a vulnerable position and fear repercussions. Further, the new report does concede that injuries and illnesses are still common, and higher than for other workers in the manufacturing industry.

Between 2004 and 2013, there were 151 meat and poultry workers who died as a result of work-related injuries or illnesses. But many incidents – even workplace fatalities – may not be reported.  Continue reading

A company is facing steep fines from federal regulators at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for citations issued after a machine operator suffered a work-related amputation.worker6

The U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA division launched its investigation into the plan after the machinist’s middle finger had to be amputated. At the time of the accident, the 53-year-old worker had been trying to reassemble a machine intended to separate chicken parts. At some point, the machine turned on suddenly and unexpectedly.

The incident, in Alabama, drew ire from the federal agency’s spokeswoman, who flatly stated this incident was not just unfortunate, but easily preventable. In fact, the company was aware that workers were exposed to the possibility of an amputation because they knew certain machines were prone to unexpected start-up. And yet, the company did not take action to address the malfunction nor did they warn workers of the issue.  Continue reading

An employer must provide workers’ compensation benefits to an auto store clerk who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a gunman robbed the store.sad1

The decision was handed down by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the case of Pickett v. Advance Auto Parts. Interestingly, a similar case was also recently decided by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. That case involved a liquor store employee who was robbed at gunpoint and soon after diagnosed with PTSD. Although the employer in that case tried to argue that robbery was a “normal working condition” for which plaintiff should not be reimbursed, the court disagreed and awarded benefits.

So too did the North Carolina appellate court.  Continue reading

Tyson Foods is one of the largest corporations in America, and has the poultry processing field on lock. In North Carolina, the company has 26 locations, from administrative support to poultry breeders and hatcheries. South Carolina has a single office, in Columbia.poultry1

According to a new investigation by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism outlet, the company wields a disturbing level of influence over policymakers across the country, and has been a key player in the systemic effort to whittle away workers’ compensation protection for injured workers.

Take for example its recent approach in Iowa, as outlined by ProPublica. Roughly five years ago, the company homed in on the state after the workers’ compensation commissioner, who acted as chief judge of the courts in deciding work injury disputes, had issued a number of decisions that irked Tyson executives. From the company’s perspective, these rulings expanded liability which increased the number of claims they would have to pay which in turn impacted the company’s bottom line. The company took action. Continue reading

While most workers’ compensation claims are going to hinge heavily on the degree to which a person is injured, there is another consideration: employment potential.
This is where the “odd-lot” doctrine comes into play. This is a legal consideration that provides that while a worker may not be completely unable to work, his condition is such that he won’t be regularly employed in any reasonably stable area of the labor market that would fit his services.

In these situations, it is the worker who shoulders the burden of proving there is a lack of opportunity for someone suffering from his particular condition, taking into account his education, experience and age. Usually, this is achieved by showing a worker diligently yet unsuccessfully sought work, but the only positions available were menial tasks for which there isn’t a stable job market.
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