NC Court of Appeals Decisions on Workers' Compensation -- Part 1

On July 20, 2010, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued four published opinions regarding workers' compensation. The first decision, Morales-Rodriguez v. Carolina Quality Exteriors, Inc., concerned whether the plaintiff was an employee or an independent contractor of the defendant. The plaintiff sought benefits for injuries sustained when he fell from a building at Nags Head, North Carolina, while applying stucco siding. Workers' compensation benefits can only be awarded to employees; independent contractors are not covered by the Workers' Compensation Act. In distinguishing between an employee and contractor, "The vital test is to be found in the fact that the employer has or has not retained the right of control or superintendence over the contractor or employee as to details." Factors to be considered are whether:

the person employed (a) is engaged in an independent business, calling, or occupation; (b) is to have the independent use of his special skill, knowledge, or training in the execution of the work; (c) is doing a specified piece of work at a fixed price or for a lump sum or upon a quantitative basis; (d) is not subject to discharge because he adopts one method of doing the work rather than another; (e) is not in the regular employ of the other contracting party; (f) is free to use such assistants as he may think proper; (g) has full control over such assistants; and (h) selects his own time.

Here, the Court credited the plaintiff's testimony and documentary evidence that he was paid by the hour, was instructed on how to work, and did not hire his own assistants. Thus he was found to be an employee and the Court upheld his award of benefits.

In the second case, Price v. Piggy Palace, the plaintiff, a 20-year-old cook, was injured when a co-worker slipped and fell, spilling approximately three gallons of hot grease onto the plaintiff. As a result, the plaintiff suffered severe burns to his head, left arm, and legs. The Full Commission had ordered that the plaintiff receive the recommended pulse dye laser treatment to aid his recovery, and awarded plaintiff travel expenses for his parents' everyday travel to the hospital. During his hospital stay, the plaintiff's parents had gone to the hospital every day and his mother assisted in the treatment of his burns, particularly with washing and dressing them. In affirming the award of travel expenses, the Court concluded that the plaintiff's mother's medical assistance and psychological support were reasonably necessary to provide relief for his condition, which is sufficient to award travel expenses as part of medical expenses under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-25.