— Posts About Personal Injuries

Forsyth County Win!

On Monday, December 6, firm partners Leto Copeley (Chapel Hill) and Ann Groninger (Charlotte) obtained a $250,000.00 verdict in Forsyth County Superior Court on behalf of their client, Thomas M. Sprinkle, against Hammaker East Emulsions, LLC, an asphalt manufacturing company.

Mr. Sprinkle was working for his employer Blythe Industries as a tack distributor truck driver on December 3, 2008, the day of his injury.  That morning his truck was empty and he drove to Hammaker East to have the truck loaded with tack.  After directing him to the loading dock and inserting the pipe into his truck, a Hammaker employee told Mr. Sprinkle that the pipes were clogged and it would be a little while before the tack started flowing.  Mr. Sprinkle remained on top of his truck, as he normally did, waiting for the tack to flow.  What he did not know, because Hammaker employees failed to tell him, was that, when the clog loosened, it would come out with a big “kapow.”  He also did not know that, in addition to blowing air through, and heating the pipes, the Hammaker employees left on the valve that allowed tack to flow from their system into Mr. Sprinkle’s truck.  When the clog finally loosened, the pipe came bursting out of the truck, spraying tack all over the truck and Mr. Sprinkle and knocking Mr. Sprinkle more than 10 feet to the ground.

Mr. Sprinkle’s knee was “pulverized” according to his doctor.  He had a complicated surgery to reconstruct his knee, a long period of recovery, and will likely need knee replacement surgery in the future.  After knocking him off his truck, Hammaker employees left Mr. Sprinkle sitting outside in the below-freezing temperature, until his supervisor arrived and called 911.  There was testimony that Hammaker’s plant manager, Bryan Miller, was slurring his words and reeked of alcohol immediately after Mr. Sprinkle’s fall.

Attorneys Valerie Johnson and Narendra Ghosh and paralegal Elizabeth Weatherspoon provided valuable assistance throughout the trial.

Categories: News of the Firm, Results Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Latest COA Decisions on Workers’ Compensation

The North Carolina Court of Appeals published two decisions on workers’ compensation this month.  The first case, Kingston v. Lyon Construction, concerns workers’ compensation liens and third-party recoveries.  The plaintiff was exposed to asbestos on the job and developed illness as a result.  He was awarded workers’ compensation benefits, and brought and settled tort cases against manufacturers of the asbestos.  He then brought a motion to determine the workers’ compensation liens under N.C.G.S. § 97-10.2(j).  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusions that the motion was proper even though only some of the third-party cases had been resolved, and that the workers’ compensation lien should be eliminated entirely because the third-party recoveries were reduced due to bankruptcies.

The second case, Nobles v. Coastal Power & Electric, concerns an issue of suitable employment.  The Industrial Commission had awarded temporary total disability benefits up to the time of the plaintiff’s maximum medical improvement, but did not find him disabled afterward.  The primary issue regarding disability concerned the defendant’s offer of a new position to plaintiff to accommodate his injury.

“The Workers’ Compensation Act provides that an injured employee is not entitled to compensation if he unjustifiably ‘refuses employment procured for him suitable to his capacity.’” N.C.G.S. § 97-32.  “Suitable employment is defined as any job that a claimant is capable of performing considering his age, education, physical limitations, vocational skills, and experience.”  However, “employers may not avoid paying compensation merely by creating for their injured employees makeshift positions not ordinarily available in the market.”  In this case, the Court upheld the Commission’s findings that the position offered to the plaintiff was suitable, and was not make-work because it had been offered previously and subsequently to others.

Categories: Judicial Decisions Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Burton Speaking at NCAJ Conference This Weekend

Burton Craige and Leto Copeley are speaking this weekend at the North Carolina Advocates for Justice Mountain Magic Conference.  Burton is leading a panel entitled “Collateral Attack on the Collateral Source Rule.”  He will lead a discussion about the national trend to allow defendants to introduce evidence of the amount actually paid for medical expenses, rather than limiting the evidence to the amount billed.

Leto will be speaking about employment law issues that workers’ compensation practitioners should be aware of, such as the ADA and FMLA.  Wage and hour issues are also important ones to consider.  As this short paper prepared by Leto and Narendra Ghosh states, “Workers’ compensation practitioners should remain vigilant for potential wage and hour violations as they pursue claims for their clients. When getting information on a client’s average weekly wage, for instance, it is important to at least consider whether your client is getting paid fully, including for overtime, under the wage and hour laws.”

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Complaint Filed on Behalf of Dwayne Allen Dail

A civil rights complaint was filed this month on behalf of Plaintiff Dwayne Allen Dail against the City of Goldsboro and individual defendants to seek redress for his wrongful incarceration.  The complaint may be viewed here.

Mr. Dail was arrested on May 13, 1988 for the rape of a 12 year old girl.  He maintained his innocence from the date of his arrest onward and insisted that evidence collected from the crime scene be tested against his DNA.  After Mr. Dail’s conviction, the City of Goldsboro reported that the evidence had been destroyed.  Eventually, in 2007, after repeated requests for this evidence, the Goldsboro Police Department acknowledged that, contrary to their previous representations, they were in fact in possession of the evidence from the crime scene.  The DNA evidence was tested against Mr. Dail’s DNA and he was finally exonerated after 18 years of imprisonment and set free.

Mr. Dail’s complaint brings claims under the federal constitution, North Carolina Constitution, and North Carolina common law.  Mr. Dail is represented by Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh, as well as Spencer Parris and Christopher Olson at Martin & Jones.

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NC Legislature Amends Guaranty Bill to Protect Workers’ Compensation Settlements

Last year, the State expanded the coverage of the North Carolina Guaranty Association to include structured settlement annuitities for North Carolina residents.   This is especially important for people who receive annuities as part of a workers’ compensation or personal injury settlement.  Coverage here.  One part of the new law’s language was less than clear, which required an amendment.  The amendment makes clear that annuity protection runs to the benefit of the actual beneficiary, the “payee” of the policy.  The text can be found here.  The amendment was enacted during the legislature’s short session this summer and signed by the governor.  Hank Patterson and Narendra Ghosh assisted with the legislative effort.

Categories: Legislative Action Tags: , , , , , , ,

Latest NC Supreme Court Decisions on Medical Malpractice and Employment Law

The North Carolina Supreme Court issued its latest round of decisions on April 15.  Two cases are worthy of note.  In the first, Brown v. Kindred Nursing Centers East, the 4-3 majority ruled that a plaintiff’s medical malpracitce complaint had to be dismissed because the plaintiff did not properly comply with the 120-day extension procedure of Rule 9(j) — the special rule for medical malpractice cases requiring the certification by a physician of the validity of the complaint.   As the dissent pointed out, the majority’s opinion was both wrong on the merits, and especially harsh because the plaintiff filed his original complaint pro se.

In White v. Thompson, the Court (again over a dissent by Justice Hudson) held that the plaintiff did not state a valid claim under the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices (UDTP) Act.  The case was between former business partners in a partnership.  The Court concluded that the UDTP does not cover actions in a business’s internal operations.  This continues a line of cases carving out most employment law disputes from the purview of the UDTP Act.

Categories: Judicial Decisions Tags: , , , , , , ,

Burton Writes on Comparative Fault Legislation

Burton Craige has published an article entitled “The Road to Comparative Fault in North Carolina” in this month’s issue of The Litigator, the regular publication of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Litigation Section.

Summary:  North Carolina is one of only five jurisdictions that retain the antiquated doctrine of contributory negligence. Here, as in Alabama, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, a plaintiff whose negligence makes the slightest contribution to his injury is barred from recovering any damages against the tortfeasor. The other 46 states, either by judicial decision or by statute, have adopted some form of comparative fault, allocating damages based on the degree of fault among the plaintiff and the defendants.

In May 2009, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill that would abolish contributory negligence, adopt a system of modified comparative fault, and modify joint and several liability.  Modeled on the Uniform Apportionment of Tort Responsibility Act (UATRA), the bill attracted bipartisan sponsorship and support.  After the sponsors agreed to several last-minute amendments that favored defendants, the bill (HB 813) passed by a margin of 67-50, overcoming strong opposition from business and insurance interests.

In the 2010 session, the North Carolina Senate will consider HB 813.  If the bill passes the Senate, it will end the long, harsh regime of contributory negligence, and bring North Carolina tort law into the modern era.  This article discusses the provisions of UATRA, the amendments adopted in the House, and the principal objections to the bill.

Categories: News of the Firm Tags: , , , , , , , ,

NC Court of Appeals on Line Between Medical Malpractice and Ordinary Negligence

The North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion on February 16, in Deal v. Frye Regional Medical Center, addressing the line between medical malpractice cases and ordinary negligence cases.  There are special requirements on plaintiffs who file malpractice claims, unlike negligence claims, so the line is important.  In this case, the decedent had been admitted and was being cared for because of a heart attack and other problems.  During his stay, however, the nurses failed to conduct a Fall Risk Screen Assessment (“FRSA”) and failed to implement a fall risk safety policy to protect decedent from falling.  Subsequently, the decedent fell out of his hospital bed and fractured his right hip, which required surgery and rehabilitation.  The Court held that the potential negligence here — the failure to conduct the FRSA — was a professional activity of the nurses, involving clinical judgment, and therefore made the claim one of medical malpractice, not just negligence.

Categories: Judicial Decisions Tags: , , , ,

NC Court of Appeals’ Latest Decisions on Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injuries

Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published four opinions concerns concerning workers’ compensation and personal injury cases.  In Berardi v. Craven County Schools, the Court considered and described the Industrial Commission’s new process for expedited medical motions, which speed up resolution of medical treatment disputes in workers’ compensation cases.  At issue was whether the employer could appeal a decision of the Commission granting one such motion.  The Court held that it could not because the order was interlocutory, i.e. it did not resolve all issues, the usual prerequisite for appeals.

In Freeman v. Rothrock, the North Carolina Supreme Court had sent the case back to the Court of Appeals after reversing it and rejecting the judicial creation of a bar to recovery of worker’s compensation benefits when an employee made misrepresentations at the time of hiring about his physical condition.  On remand, the Court addressed the other appealed issues from the Commission, and affirmed the Commission’s conclusions that the plaintiff is entitled to ongoing total disability benefits and that the employer is not entitled to a credit based on previous clinchers (settlements) with the plaintiff.

Read more…

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Burton, Hank, Mike, and Jonathan Recognized as North Carolina “Super Lawyers”

Four of Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys have been named North Carolina “Super Lawyers” for 2010 in a recent study by Law & Politics magazine.  The findings are published in the February 2010 edition of the North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine.

Patterson Harkavy’s 2010 North Carolina “Super Lawyers” are:

  • Burton Craige — Personal Injury: Medical Malpractice
  • Hank Patterson — Workers’ Compensation
  • Michael Okun — Labor & Employment Law
  • Jonathan Harkavy — Alternative Dispute Resolution

In addition, Jonathan Harkavy was named to the list of the Top 100 attorneys in North Carolina.

Law & Politics conducts a regional survey of lawyers who have been in practice for at least five years, asking them to nominate the best attorneys they’ve personally observed in action.  In addition, the magazine’s attorney-led research department reviews nominees’ credentials based on a set of evaluation criteria.  To ensure a diverse and well-balanced list, the research staff considers factors such as firm size, practice area and geographic location.

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