NC Court of Appeals Issues Decisions on Workers' Compensation

In the workers’ compensation case, Sellers v. FMC Corporation, the North Carolina Court of Appeals dealt with the issue of excusable neglect in filing appeals in the Industrial Commission.

At issue was the defendants’ untimely appeal of an Opinion and Award by a Deputy Commissioner, which had awarded the plaintiff – who lost nearly all of his vision from prolonged exposure to intense light from welding torches – past and continuing disability benefits as well as attorneys’ fees. Defendants failed to file their notice of appeal within 15 days because they confused documents from this case with a related case. The Chair of the Commission twice rejected defendants’ appeal as untimely, but a panel of the Full Commission then ruled in the defendant’s favor and allowed their appeal to go forward. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Full Commission did not have jurisdiction to hear defendant’s appeal because it was untimely filed and there was no excusable neglect. The Court held that “defendant’s argument of confusion as its reason for delay does not amount to a showing of excusable neglect,” and thus upheld the Deputy Commissioner’s Opinion and Award.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals, in another recent workers’ compensation case, Campos-Brizvela v. Rocha Masonry LLC, affirmed the Industrial Commission’s decision granting medical and disability benefits to a man whose hand were nearly amputated while cleaning a concrete pump. Defendants appealed, arguing that because the plaintiff was hired by an employee of Rocha Masonry “who lacked the authority to make such a decision,” he was not employed for purposes of worker’s compensation at the time of his injury. The Court found that a foreman for the defendant hired the plaintiff to work at a job site, drove the plaintiff to the job, told him that he would be earning $9.00 an hour paid by means of a check drawn on the account the employer, and directed the activities of the plaintiff and of others while at the job site. Based on these facts, the Court correctly stated that because “Plaintiff reasonably believed he had been hired by someone with the authority to do so” he was considered an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation. This is consistent with the basic agency principle of apparent authority. Thus, the definition of an “employee” in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-2(2) does not require employees to determine whether or not the person who hired them was “acting within the scope of [their] actual authority.” The Court also upheld the finding that the plaintiff was disabled.