NC legislature swiftly counters state Supreme Court decision regarding workers’ compensation

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NC state supreme court
The NC legislation took less than two months to overturn a state Supreme Court decision regarding workers' compensation

An intense and widespread lobbying initiative has succeeded in overturning a recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision in favour of an injured worker.

The Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors of North Carolina (PHCC-NC) reports that its Lobbyist last week said that “HB 26, An Act to Clarify that an Injury Not Identified in an Award Arising out of G.S. 97-18(B) or G.S. 97-18(D) Is not Presumed Causally Related and to Amend the Worker’s Compensation Act Regarding Approval of Disputed Legal Fees by the Industrial Commission, was signed into law by the Governor.”

“We weighed in on behalf of our members on this compromise legislation which was passed following the poorly decided Wilkes v. City of Greenville case in order to restore the Workers’ Compensation law to where it was before the Court decision, and reinstate the protection to employers against unrelated compensation claims,” the PHCC-NC newsletter reported. It didn’t take long for a broad coalition of organizations to mobilize for a legislative response to the court decision..

Gov. Roy Cooper signed the law, approved unanimously by the state House and Senate, to counteract the court’s decision involving a Greenville municipal landscaper/laborer who was severely injured when a vehicle ran a red light and struck the city-owned truck he was driving.

 

The speed of the legislative reaction was truly impressive, as the court handed down its worker-friendly decision less than two months earlier, on June 9. More than two dozen groups and companies – including the NC Chamber, the NC League of Municipalities, NC Association of County Commissioners, American Airlines and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina – urged legislators to change the law in light of the court’s ruling, the News & Observer reported.

 

Employers argued that the high court’s decision would significantly raise their workers’ compensation costs. Attorneys who represent injured workers disputed that assertion, saying that the ruling merely affirmed employees’ long-held legal rights and shouldn’t affect costs.

Workers’ compensation attorneys such as Anita Hunt, a Durham lawyer who represented the injured Greenville worker, told the News & Observer that she was opposed to efforts to counteract the court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court had ruled that once an employer admits that an employee is entitled to workers’ compensation for injuries suffered in a work-related accident, the employer can be on the hook for paying to treat medical issues that arise later unless it proves those ailments didn’t stem from the accident.

The bill approved by legislators shifts the burden of proof to injured workers to prove that a subsequent “injury or condition” stems from a work-related accident.