— Posts About Injury by Accident

NC Court of Appeals Reviews Workers’ Comp Cases

The North Carolina Court of Appeals decided two workers’ compensation cases of note this week.

The first, Salomon v. The Oaks of Carolina, involved a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA) whose shoulder was injured when she was changing a partially paralyzed patient by herself with one arm and holding him up with the other.  The resident pushed back suddenly and the plaintiff heard a crack and had pain in her shoulder.  The defendants argued that the injury was not caused by accident because on the weekends the facility is often short staffed so it not uncommon for only one CNA to lift or move a resident.  The Court rejected defendants’ argument, holding that the unexpected event in this case was the sudden push back by the resident who does not typically resist assistance.  The injury therefore is by accident, and thus compensable. Regarding disability, the Court remanded the case to the Industrial Commission to make more detailed findings of fact.

The Second case, Thompson v. FedEx Ground/RPS, Inc., involved a woman who injured her back in 2000 when lifting luggage out of her rental car on a business trip.  Plaintiff appealed the Opinion and Award by the Industrial Commission, contending that the Commission failed to hold that there is a presumption of disability because of a prior award of disability from the Commission.  The Court, however, held that because the prior award only addressed the back injury and not the plaintiff’s alleged mysofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia, there was no presumption of disability and thus benefits would not be paid for the plaintiff’s other ailments.  The Court also upheld the Commission’s finding that the plaintiff’s alleged mysofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia were not related to her back injury.

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Patterson Harkavy Prevails in Workers’ Comp Case In Court of Appeals

In Campbell v. National Pipe and Plastics Inc. the Plaintiff, Sherron Campbell, was represented in part by Narendra Ghosh of Patterson Harkavy.  The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled for the plaintiff in affirming the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s Opinion and Award, which had awarded workers’ compensation benefits to Ms. Campbell.

Ms. Campbell suffered injuries to her right hand and fingers when attempting to stop her fall by grabbing a nearby pipe.  This injury and resulting disability also aggravated Ms. Campbell’s depression, which had been manageable up to this point.  In the appeal, the defendants contended that the Commission erred in assigning weight to Dr. Williams’ testimony, arguing that they considered it to be speculative because he did not identify a specific degree to which Ms. Campbell’s compensable injury by accident had exacerbated her preexisting condition.   However, the Court held that Dr. Williams did not need to determine to what degree the workplace injury exacerbated the psychological condition, but only that it was a factor in the exacerbation of Ms. Cambell’s preexisting condition.  The defendants also contended that the Commission did not determine if plaintiff’s statements to her doctor were credible, but the Court ruled that a doctor is entitled to rely on information provided by the patient to form his opinion.  And, in any event, the Court of Appeals does not have authority to reweigh evidence or credibility determinations after the Commission has considered it.  Defendants’ final argument that the Commission erred in giving weight to Dr. Prakken’s opinion was overruled by the Court, which concluded that the Commission does not need to explain why it has given weight to particular evidence.

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Latest Workers’ Compensation Decision from NC Court of Appeals

Earlier this week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published its latest workers’ compensation decision in Hedges v. Wake County Public School System.  In this case, the plaintiff had stumbled and fell when she walked into a workroom to make copies of payroll materials.  The plaintiff did not trip on something; she simply stumbled and fell.  Because of the awkward way in which she fell, she tore her rotator cuff, which required surgery and three months out of work.  For no good reason, the defendants denied the claim.

The plaintiff won in front of the Deputy Commissioner and Full Commission, and was also awaded attorneys’ fees because of the defendants’ unreasonable defense.  On defendants’ appeal, the Court correctly affirmed both the award of benefits and attorneys’ fees.  Details below:  Read more…

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NC Court of Appeals Decisions on Workers’ Compensation — Part 2

The third workers’ compensation decision that the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued last week was Reaves v. Industrial Pump Service, a case that had already been to the Court last year.  Under the Pickrell presumption, “When an employee is found dead under circumstances indicating that death took place within the time and space limits of the employment, in the absence of any evidence of what caused the death, courts should indulge a presumption or inference that the death arose out of the employment.”  The defendant must then show that the death occurred due to a non-compensable cause; otherwise the plaintiff prevails.  In addition, if an employee suffers a heart attack while conducting his work in the usual way, the injury is not compensable.  But, a heart attack can be a compensable accident if it “is due to unusual or extraordinary exertion . . . or extreme conditions.”  Here, plaintiff was working in extreme heat in repairing a basement pump.  Not feeling well, he went to his truck, where is partner found him dead from a heart attack not long afterward.  The Court concluded that the Industrial Commission correctly applied the presumption, that defendant had not rebutted it, and thus that plaintiff’s death was the result of a compensable accident, entitling his wife to workers’ compensation death benefits.

The last workers’ compensation case in this batch is a 2-1 split decision, Shay v. Rowan Salisbury Schools.  The plaintiff, a 15-year teacher, had always used the elevator to get to her second floor classroom.  The elevator broke, and for a month, she had to use the stairs to get to the classroom.  One day, while climbing the stairs, her knee “popped,” and she eventually had to have surgery for a meniscus tear.  Plaintiff did not stumble, fall, trip, slip, or twist her knee causing her injury.  The  Commission found this to be a compensable accident, over Commissioner Ballance’s dissent.  The Court reversed, finding the injury was not from an “accident.”  Continue for more on case: Read more…

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NC Court of Appeals Concludes Unexpected Injury Not Covered by Workers’ Compensation

The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued an interesting opinion in Gray v. RDU Airport Authority.  In the case, the plaintiff — a traffic control officer — was directing traffic in front of the airport terminals when he stepped backward onto a sloping part of a crosswalk and felt a sharp “pop,” later revealed to be a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Court upheld the Industrial Commission’s denial of benefits on the grounds that there had been no injury “by accident.”  Workers’ compensation only covers injuries (as opposed to an occupational disease) that are caused by an “accident” connected to work.  The Court held: “An ‘accident’ is an “unlooked for event” and implies a result produced by a ‘fortuitous cause.’ … Thus, in order to be a compensable ‘injury by accident,’ the injury must involve more than the employee’s performance of his or her usual and customary duties in the usual way.”

Here, because the plaintiff was performing his job in his usual way, it was not unusual for him to step backwards of the crosswalk, the plaintiff did not trip or fall, and nothing unforeseen happened, the Court agreed that there was no “accident.”  The Court rejected plaintiff’s arguments that it was an unusual “misstep” or that his action was “accidental” because of his subjective perspective.

Although possibly limited by its facts, this case could become important as precedent.  It also goes to show that every single facet of a workers’ compensation case has to be thoroughly considered and litigated — potential pitfalls are everywhere.

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