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North Carolina Work Related Injury Laws

April 16, 2018

Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina


Workers’ Compensation is the primary legal system where employees injured while acting within the scope of their employment may generally seek compensation for physical injuries, illnesses, death and lost wages from their employers in North Carolina. It’s important to note that this system generally covers workplace accidents regardless of fault so tort defenses such as Contributory Negligence generally don’t apply. The following article contains general information about Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina. We strongly recommend that you seek the assistance of a licensed North Carolina Personal Injury Attorney at the earliest time possible if you have been hurt at work. This blog is not to be construed as legal advice.


What is Workers’ Compensation?


Basically, the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (NCWCA) was passed into law to replace the standard Personal Injury process for instances where employees are injured while acting within the scope of their employment. The act vests primary adjudication authority of Workers’ Compensation (WC) claims with the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC) rather than with the courts through the general civil litigation process where other Personal Injury matters are handled. The NCWCA provides that all employers must secure payment of compensation to employees for personal injury or death by accident arising out of and in the course of employment. When an employee is injured, written notice must be given to the employer of the employees’ injuries as soon as possible and the standard WC Form 18 should be filed with the NCIC to expedite WC claims through the process, which may ultimately require appearances before the NCIC and appellate review in the North Carolina Court of Appeals.


Are All Employers Required to Comply with the NCWCA?


The simple answer is no. N.C.G.S. § 97-2 defines employers as: (1) all public and quasi-public corporations in North Carolina; (2) Every private individual, partnership, association, or corporation that regularly employs: (i) 3 or more employees in the same business or establishment; or (ii) one or more employees in activities involving the use or presence of radiation; (3) The board of commissioners of each county regarding deputy sheriffs serving within such county; (4) The state of North Carolina and all political subdivisions; and (5) The North Carolina Forest Service regarding authorized pickup firefighters engaged in emergency suppression activities. While the statute provides for a broad spectrum of employers, it certainly does not encompass all employers, such as private entities that employ less than 3 employees in their business operations. Other exceptions and nuances may apply in determining whether your employer is statutorily bound to the requirements of the NCWCA.


Are All Employees Covered under the NCWCA?


Again, the simple answer is no. N.C.G.S. § 97-2(2) defines employees as: (1) Any person working for an employer by way of contract or appointment, (includes aliens and minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed); (2) Any sole proprietor or partner of a business or any member of a limited liability company (LLC) actively engaged in the operation of the business who elects to be included under the workers’ compensation insurance and notifies the insurer of his or her election to be included; (3) All officers and employees of the State of North Carolina; (4) Deputy sheriffs and people acting in the capacity of deputy sheriffs; (5) Members of the North Carolina National Guard and State Defense Militia while on state active duty; (6) Executive officers of a corporation who are not otherwise expressly exempt from coverage by the corporation’s insurance contract; and others defined by the statute. Again, while the statute provides for a broad spectrum of employees, it certainly does not encompass all employees under the common lay definition of employee.


Can My Boss Fire Me for Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim?


No! An employer who retaliates or engages in discriminatory action against an employee who filed a WC claim may be sued under the North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (NCREDA). McDowell v. Central Station Original Interiors, Inc., 712 S.E. 2d 251 (N.C. Ct. App. 2011). It’s important to also know that an employer cannot sign a contract with you where the employer relieves themselves from their obligations required under the NCWCA. No contract or agreement, written or implied, no rule, regulation, or other device shall in any manner operate to relieve an employer in whole or in part, of any obligation created by this Article, except as herein otherwise expressly provided. N.C.G.S. § 97-6.


What Kind of Injuries are covered under the NCWCA?


N.C.G.S. § 97-2(6) defines “injury” and “personal injury” as only injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment, and shall not include a disease in any form, except where it results naturally and unavoidably from the accident. With respect to back injuries, however, where injury to the back arises out of and in the course of the employment and is the direct result of a specific traumatic incident of the work assigned, “injury by accident” shall be construed to include any disabling physical injury to the back arising out of and causally related to such incident. Injury shall also include breakage or damage to eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, or other prosthetic devices which function as part of the body; provided, however, that eyeglasses and hearing aids will not be replaced, repaired, or otherwise compensated for unless injury to them is incidental. N.C.G.S. § 97-53(13) includes a catch-all clause which incorporates into coverage: Any disease, other than hearing loss covered in another subdivision of this section, which is proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment. WC Law contains numerous other nuances of injuries that are covered and certain scenarios where coverage under the NCWCA will be extended or denied.


Starting a Claim


To initiate a WC claim an employee generally shall provide a written notification to their employer of their injury that states the name and address of the employee, the time and place of the accident, the nature and cause of the accident, and details about the resulting injury or death. Next the employee should file a standard Form 18 with the NCIC regarding the accident. These steps generally should be taken within 30 days of the accident and the Form 18 shall generally be filed no later than 2 years after the accident.


Handle Your Case Properly from the Start


The next steps of the process involve actions by the employer and typically their WC insurance provider, which may require you to appear before the NCIC and ultimately before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The NCWCA also provides cumbersome schemes for determining recoverable damages for lost wages, reduction in pay due to movement at work from injuries, and costs for medical bills, prescriptions and damages and incidental cost issues related to WC claims. Due to the complex nature of the NCWCA and the fact that insurance companies may try to deny your claim, we strongly encourage you to seek the advice of a licensed Florida Personal Injury Attorney or North Carolina Personal Injury Attorney before you decide whether to embark on pursuing a Workers’ Compensation claim. To schedule a consultation today, contact Biazzo Law, PLLC. This blog is not to be construed as legal advice.


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