NC Court of Appeals' Latest Decisions on Workers' Compensation and Personal Injuries

Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published four opinions concerns concerning workers' compensation and personal injury cases. In Berardi v. Craven County Schools, the Court considered and described the Industrial Commission's new process for expedited medical motions, which speed up resolution of medical treatment disputes in workers' compensation cases. At issue was whether the employer could appeal a decision of the Commission granting one such motion. The Court held that it could not because the order was interlocutory, i.e. it did not resolve all issues, the usual prerequisite for appeals.

In Freeman v. Rothrock, the North Carolina Supreme Court had sent the case back to the Court of Appeals after reversing it and rejecting the judicial creation of a bar to recovery of worker’s compensation benefits when an employee made misrepresentations at the time of hiring about his physical condition. On remand, the Court addressed the other appealed issues from the Commission, and affirmed the Commission's conclusions that the plaintiff is entitled to ongoing total disability benefits and that the employer is not entitled to a credit based on previous clinchers (settlements) with the plaintiff.

In Beckles-Palomares v. Logan, the Court addressed the City of Winston-Salem's defense of governmental immunity, which arose out of an accident where an intoxicated driver struck and killed a seven-year-old boy riding his bicycle. The plaintiff, the boy's mother, brought claims against several parties, including the City for failing to keep the particular streets safe in various specific ways. The Court rejected the City's defense of immunity, concluding that the public duty doctrine only applies to law enforcement activities, and that the statutes at issue waived immunity. The Court also rejected its defenses on summary judgment, allowing the plaintiff's claims against the City to go to a jury.

Finally, in Blackwell v. Hartley, the Court addressed evidence provided by accident reconstruction experts. In this case, plaintiff Blackwell was driving her car with her son, stopped at an intersection, checked traffic in both directions, entered the intersection, and her car was struck by Hatley's pick-up truck. One of the key disputes was whether Hartley was exceeding the speed limit, and whether plaintiff's expert could testify about Hartley's speed. Although a recent law changed this rule, the Court held that for accidents occurring prior to December 1, 2006, an accident reconstruction expert cannot opine on the speed of a vehicle without observing the accident. The Court also affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the town where the accident took place, concluding that there was no evidence of negligence on the town's part.