My name is John Landry, and I have been practicing Workers’ Compensation law since 2004. I obtained my board certification from the North Carolina State Bar as a specialist in Workers’ Compensation Law, a distinction awarded to only 1% or fewer of the attorneys in the state. And while this is an exclusive certification, it really is quite critical. These cases are rarely “cookie-cutter” or straightforward. Instead, many issues can come up that present major roadblocks to a case – unless you have a thorough understanding of the law.
I believe that as an attorney, my true role is to deliver guidance. This workers’ compensation process is somewhat complicated. When I can give someone information regarding their options and each of the pros and cons for any choice — my clients always make the best choice for them. The choice for one client may be the same or different for any given person. The important thing is that you have all the information available to you to make the best decision you can for yourself.
Many people go through these claims without an attorney, understanding that they will be responsible for making their own choice one way or another. But the truth is, having an expert attorney on your side is the only way to have access to the full scope of your unique situation.
Something to keep in mind is that your employer and their insurance company will have their own legal team. So not only will they not provide you with legal advice, you wouldn’t want to listen to it because their advice would be to act in a way that would benefit their own interests — not yours. In fact, not even the North Carolina Industrial Commission can provide you with legal advice. And this is the very state agency that was created to oversee and assist with the administration of these work-related injuries.
Given this situation, it’s clear how vital the role of an attorney can be. In fact, without your own legal counsel, the odds will be greatly stacked against you. Therefore, it’s crucial to have an attorney on your side if you ever sustain a serious injury at work.
This book is for anyone who has questions about the Workers’ Compensation process. Whether or not you’ve been through this process before or have never had a workers’ compensation claim in the past, this book is meant to offer information that is difficult to obtain through other resources. Most importantly, this book is meant to be helpful as a form of guidance to anyone curious about the Workers’ Compensation process.
Of course, a book cannot provide the tailored counsel that a consultation can. But hopefully, it will answer a host of questions and help you to avoid some of the pitfalls most common in these matters.
Understanding “Qualified Injuries”
When we talk about a valid Workers’ Comp. injury, we’re really asking, “What injuries are compensable under North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation laws?”
There are two different types of claims that you can bring in Workers’ Compensation cases, but the most common is referred to as an “Injury by accident”.
This describes an injury that occurs by an accident that is completely unlooked for and unexpected. These injuries occur in a way that is a break from the normal working routine. And this type of event is what will qualify the accident as a valid claim or not.
In these “injury by accident” claims, it’s critical to show that there was, in fact, an accident. Unfortunately, if you were injured in the course of a routine in your normal job this can prevent a successful claim for benefits.
For example, let’s assume that you stack the shelves of the local grocery store. One night when stocking shelves, your shoulder pops, so you go to the doctor. During your appointment, you find out that you have torn your rotator cuff and you need surgery before returning to work.
Under this fact pattern, there is no question that you injured yourself while at work. What’s more, there’s no question that as a result of that injury, you will require surgery and time off. However, this injury would not qualify as a valid Workers’ Compensation claim. Why? Because there was no accident. The injury just happened to occur during the regular course of your job.
Alternatively, imagine that while lifting heavy boxes to stock shelves, something starts to fall over. You reach out to grab it, and that’s when your shoulder pops. This small distinction would allow for the injury to qualify as an accident because it includes an unexpected event.
With these examples, you can see how the events at the time of your injury greatly impact the outcome of your case. Even the smallest details can lead an employer or their insurance company to accept or deny liability for your case.
Once an injury is reported to an employer, their Workers’ Compensation insurance provider will investigate the claim and obtain a recorded statement. These statements are provided by you, the injured party, and create the basis of your claim.
Because of this, it’s advisable to meet with an attorney at your first opportunity. Whether or not you choose to work with legal counsel throughout the claims process, this initial meeting can provide invaluable insight. A brief case consultation can give you the information you need to protect the value of your claim. Of course, this is not because you will change your story. No, rather, it will give you the opportunity to understand the best way to present the facts of your case so that your claim will receive a fair review. In this way, you can avoid costly litigation and time-consuming roadblocks as you try to “set the record straight” and get the benefits you need and deserve.
How North Carolina Handles Partial Liability in Workers’ Compensation Cases?
What happens if an employee is partially at fault for an incident or accident at work?
The Workers’ Compensation laws in North Carolina recognize a “no-fault system”. This means that the state doesn’t care to determine whose fault the accident was. So, fault has no relevance for purposes of a Workers’ Compensation claim.
Because of this no-fault system, all that the North Carolina Industrial Commission looks for is the evidence of an accident and the medical evidence as a result of that accident. (Such as what medical treatment is necessary, how that accident results in some lost time from work or reduction in wages, etc.)
For example, consider that you work in a factory. You routinely use a particular machine and notify your employer that its safety mechanism is faulty. One day, your employer ensures you that the mechanism has been fixed. Later on, when you reach your hand in to clear a jammed object after engaging the safety mechanism, it fails and causes significant damage to your fingers. In this case, the employer would clearly be at fault for your injuries.
Consider also a similar scenario. You routinely use a particular machine, but the function of the safety mechanism is not an issue. One day, when you are close to getting off work, you go to clear the jam without taking time to engage the safety mechanism. When you put your hand in to clear the jam, you sustain significant damage to your fingers. In this case, you would clearly be at fault for your injuries.
In these cases, the North Carolina Industrial Commission is only concerned with the fact of whether or not an accident has occurred. So in either of these situations, you would be entitled to the same benefits. For more information Workers Compensation Law in North Carolina, a free initial consultation is your next best step.