Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler

The Personal Injury, Worker’s Compensation and Social Security Disability Group of Sellers, Ayers, Dortch and Lyons.

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The issue of intentionality in workplace accidents

Workers' compensation is that insurance that deals with North Carolina work-related injuries in a no-fault context. The idea is that, once a workers' compensation claim is made and resolved, the employee cannot allege the employer is to blame for what happened. This is what "exclusive remedy" means.

What if the workplace accident results in death, you may ask. Here, state laws vary. Very often, the crux of a case can come down to a question of intentionality on the part of the employer.

For example, consider one recent case out of Illinois. In it, the estate of a recycling company worker who died when a mortar shell he was handling exploded in the plant, sought benefits under workers' compensation law. According to a suit in federal court, the family claimed that the victim had not died accidentally because his employer knew the ordnance it had received from the army was live. In other words, there was an element of intentionality. Unfortunately, the judge dismissed that claim.

Specifically, the judge drew a fine line based on the language of the suit. She said the plaintiff had alleged that transporting the ordnance was the intentional act. The suit didn't claim the employer acted intentionally to injure the victim. Because of that, she said the state's exclusive remedy provision doesn't allow the estate's claim against the employer.

North Carolina law does allow workers ' compensation benefits to surviving dependants in certain situations. The particulars of the case determine who can recover what, and the issue of intent on the part of the employer can have a bearing.

What's clear is that the effort of seeking workers' compensation benefits, whether for injury or death, is a complicated matter that can benefit from the help of a skilled attorney.

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