Latest Court of Appeals Cases on Workers' Compensation

Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued two decisions on workers' compensation. In the first case, Jones v. Steve Jones Auto Group, the plaintiff was a general manager at auto dealerships who sought benefits due to mold exposure – an unlisted occupational disease. Due to the dangerous mold in his office, the plaintiff developed serious respiratory ailments. When, as in this case, an occupational disease is not one of those specifically listed in the Workers' Compensation Act, one has to prove that “the employment exposed the worker to a greater risk of contracting the disease than the public generally” and that the employment “significantly contributed to, or was a significant causal factor in, the disease’s development.”

Based on testing at the workplace, the types of mold, the medical condition of the plaintiff, and the expert medical testimony, the Court found these criteria to be met and upheld the award of benefits. The Court also rejected defendants' strained arguments that the plaintiff's problems were due to a "personal sensitivity" and that there wasn't enough evidence of occupational mold exposure.

In the second case, Shorts v. The Mega Force Staffing Group (unpublished), the primary issue was whether the plaintiff gave sufficient notice of his injury to his employer. Under the Act, an employee has to give his employer written notice of his injury by accident within 30 days, unless he has a "reasonable excuse" and the delay did not prejudice the employer. The Commission had found "reasonable excuse" because it took the planitiff's several months to properly diagnose him, and found no prejudice to the employer. The Court upheld the findings, and the award to the plaintiff.