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North Carolina Workers’ Compensation (W.C.) laws hurt the most loyal and dedicated employees to the company. W.C. law says that getting hurt on the job in North Carolina is not enough to have a claim. The law has long been held not to be “a general health plan”.  Therefore, it has some specific requirements about what is considered a compensable W.C. case and what is a denied case. Back injuries are specifically troublesome in this situation. For a worker to have a compensable W.C. back injury claim, they either have to show an injury by accident (an unusual event in the workplace), or they have to show a specific traumatic event with a specific date, time and activity which caused the injury.

How does this hurt diligent employees? Most employees don’t want to have a W.C. case, don’t want to complain, and don’t want to be perceived as a whiner in their workplace. If they have an event where they injure their back or feel back pain, they try to rest and then keep on working. It is not unusual for a worker on the job, especially heavy job, to have a twinge or back pain, rest for a few minutes and continue working, only to have increasing pain over that day or the next couple of days. When they report to their employer that they were injured, if they say that they were doing their regular job in the regular fashion, the claim is denied because they failed to show an injury by accident. Unless they can specifically recall the event that they were doing when they popped or hurt their back, their W.C. case will be denied.

These laws cause the greatest difficulty for employees who try to keep on going.  A faithful, dedicated employee is less likely to have taken specific notes or to have specifically recorded the event which caused their back pain and less likely to have documentation to support their testimony.

The law is designed to require the employee to immediately put down his tools, lay down at the job site and tell the employer that they have to call an ambulance. That employee will then have a specific date, time, incident and documentation of their complaints of pain. Is this really the approach we want to encourage in our workers? This is the action that our legislators want employees to take on the job site if they want to protect their rights to obtain medical treatment and benefits for work-related injuries.

We call upon the N.C. legislature to abandon the restricted theories of liability in N.C. W.C. law and adopt an approach consistent with the employer’s responsibility to bear the cost of damage to the workers, just as they bear the cost of damage to any machinery that they use. Shifting the cost of the damage to human capital onto the taxpayer violates the principles of capitalism. It should not be Medicare/Medicaid/Food Stamps which pays for damaged backs; it should be the industry which broke the back.

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