N.C. workers win in court, only to see gains reversed by law

A new N.C. law shifts the burden of proof in workers’ compensation cases onto the worker.

On June 9, North Carolina workers won a major victory in the state's Supreme Court when the court ruled that employers, and not employees, are responsible for proving whether or not a subsequent medical condition claimed through workers' compensation was caused by the claimed incident. However, as the News & Observer reports, while that court decision helped strengthen the rights of workers' compensation claimants, the victory was short lived. That's because soon after North Carolina lawmakers passed a law that largely reverses the Supreme Court's ruling and shifts the burden of proof in workers' compensation cases onto the employee.

Background of the case

In 2010, a landscaper/laborer working for the City of Greenville was driving a city-owned truck when he was struck by a vehicle that had run a red light. The worker initially claimed workers' compensation for various conditions that resulted from the accident, including a concussion, three broken ribs, head abrasion, and back, neck, hip, and pelvis injuries. In documents filed with the N.C. Industrial Commission, the city admitted that the worker was entitled to compensation for those injuries.

Later, the claimant filed another claim for tinnitus, anxiety, and depression, which he claimed were also a result of the accident. The city challenged the claim. While a deputy commissioner agreed with the claimant that the tinnitus, anxiety, and depression were caused by the accident, the full commission concluded that only the tinnitus was directly related.

Finally, both the N.C. Court of Appeals and the N.C. Supreme Court ruled on the matter, both times in favor of the claimant. The courts affirmed that the law at the time puts the burden of proof on the employer, and not the employee, to prove that the subsequent medical issues were not caused by the accident.

Lawmakers reverse court ruling

While the ruling merely confirmed what was already the law, employers were not pleased and immediately began petitioning state lawmakers to come up with a legislative fix. House Bill 26 was quickly rushed through the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor during the summer of 2017. The bill largely reverses the ruling by the N.C. Supreme Court and puts the burden of proof on employees in workers' compensation claims. That means that if a subsequent medical condition arises after an accident that may have been caused by that accident, it is up to the employee, and no longer the employer, to prove that the condition was indeed caused by the accident.

Help with workers' compensation

The above article shows the sort of challenges and obstacles that employees must contend with when they need to file for workers' compensation. That is why anybody making a claim should contact a workers' compensation attorney for help. An experienced attorney will be able to help injured workers navigate the claims process more effectively, thus helping them get the maximum compensation they may be entitled to.