The basic structure of worker’s compensation requires workers to give up their rights to sue their employers for workplace injury and receive immediate wage protection and medical coverage. The basic rule is that injured employees do not have to prove that someone else was at fault and caused the injury. There may be instances when the worker must show that he or she did not cause the injury.
At- Fault versus No-Fault
North Carolina uses an at-fault system for most injury cases. The typical automobile collision in North Carolina is an at-fault situation. If a driver contributes in any way to the accident, then he or she cannot collect damages. The at-fault or contributory negligence rule is harsh. The smallest amount of negligence can bar recovery.
Unlike other North Carolina laws on personal injury, worker’s compensation is a no-fault system. Injured employees can get benefits without proving that the employer or someone else was at fault. The statute that created the worker’s compensation proceeded on the idea employees and employers should not go through a long court struggle to find fault when the employer and employee can agree to quick payment of medical costs and lost wages.
Fault In North Carolina Worker’s Compensation
The basic rule is the North Carolina worker’s compensation is a no-fault system and injured workers do not have to prove someone was negligent or at fault. The legislature carved out specific areas where employee conduct can affect eligibility for benefits.
The issues arise in the question of coverage and disqualifying conduct described below.
• Section 97-12 of the North Carolina General Statutes exempts employees from coverage when their intoxication caused the accident or injury. The intoxication can be by alcohol or unprescribed drugs or medications. The section also removes coverage from employees injured by attempts at suicide or deliberate self-harm.
• Alcohol intoxication has a further reservation; alcohol intoxication may not be a barrier if the alcohol was provided by the employer or a supervisor.
• Section 97-12 applies a ten percent reduction in benefits when in the conduct that led to the injury the employee deliberately failed to use safety devices or perform a required duty.
The intoxication exemption and failure to use safety devices and steps can be seen as efforts to promote workplace safety. The legislature likely intended to discourage workplace intoxication either by alcohol or illegal drugs. The workers’ compensation benefits should not reward intoxication on the job. The exemption that reduces benefits by ten percent can serve to promote the use of safety devices and procedures.
A typical workplace injury law claim is reasonably simple and direct. For example, an employee sustains an injury while at work. The employee goes to the hospital for treatment. He or she files notice to the employer the next day. Within ten days, the employer reviews the claim and agrees to grant coverage for wages and ongoing medical treatment.
In other cases, North Carolina Workplace Injury Law can be complex, and situations arise that require consideration of technical factors. The advice and assistance of an experienced worker’s compensation attorney will be essential to a fair determination of coverage, disability benefits, and recovery of lost wages.