When it comes to workers’ comp, what is considered an accident?
As I discussed in my first blog entry
, in most cases, there must be some type of “accident” in order for an employee to have a compensable workers’ compensation case
. (Again, the big exception to this rule is if you have a back injury.) An “accident” means that something unusual in the work routine has happened, but “something unusual” does not have to be something dramatic.
While at times an accident can be dramatic—such as an automobile collision or an electrocution or a limb being caught in a machine—there are many “accidents” where the “something unusual” that occurs is not dramatic at all. For example, suppose a furniture mover’s knee goes out while he’s carrying a sofa up a flight of stairs. If his knee gives out because he missteps as he’s going up the stairs, the misstep is something unusual and that’s an “accident.” Here’s another example: assume you’re a FedEx employee who loads boxes onto trucks. One morning, your co-worker, who helps you load the boxes, doesn’t show up for work and, as a result, you have to load twice as many boxes as normal, and as you’re doing your job, you suffer a shoulder injury. In this example, you likely suffered an accident because your injury occurred when you had to do something unusual—lift more than usual. As a final example, suppose an electrician injures his shoulder while setting up a ladder to do overhead electrical work, which is something that he ordinarily has to do as part of his regular job. If the ladder wobbles or slips as the electrician raises it and this causes the shoulder injury, the wobbling or slipping of the ladder is unusual, and that’s also an accident.
A misstep or a wobbly ladder may seem insignificant to the individual. Concentrating on the fact that he is now hurt, he may not even make a mental note that “something unusual” occurred. But after reporting the injury to his employer, seeing a doctor and filing a form with the North Carolina’s Industrial Commission, an insurance company representative is going to call to take a recorded statement. The representative is going to ask if anything unusual happened and she isn’t going to explain what “unusual” means. If the employee, not really understanding what is legally considered “unusual,” states, “No, I was just doing my job,” the insurance company will likely deny the workers’ claim on the ground that there was no accident. And then, the injured employee is going to be involved in potentially protracted litigation during which time he will not receive any workers’ compensation benefits.
If you’ve been injured on the job
, the best time to speak with a lawyer
is before you talk to the insurance company. As you so often hear in TV shows and movies, “anything you say can and will be used against you.” With legal representation you will have a better understanding of your rights and the law.
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