Today's Workers' Compensation and Employment Decisions by the NC Court of Appeals

In Panos v. Timco Engine Center, the court considered the applicability of the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (NCWHA) to an employee who works outside of North Carolina. Plaintiff had brought an action based on the company's failure to pay severance as required by his employment contract. Although the company was based in North Carolina, and the plaintiff's employment contract specificed that North Carolina law applied, the plaintiff primarily worked in Michigan and spent at most 18 days working in North Carolina. The most direct contact was that plaintiff participated in a daily conference call with the company's North Carolina office. The court held that these daily phone calls were not enough to bring the plaintiff within the protection of the NCWHA.

In Blow v. DSM Pharmaceuticals, the court rejected the plaintiff's Woodson claim based on the pleadings. Generally, under the workers' compensation system, an employee who is injured at work cannot bring a personal injury claim in state court against his employer -- instead the employee has to file a workers' compensation claim and proceed through the Industrial Commission. This is the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, N.C.G.S. 97-10.1. The Woodson case, however, recognized an exception to this rule when "an employer intentionally engages in misconduct knowing it is substantially certain to cause serious injury or death to employees and an employee is injured or killed by that misconduct." Such Woodson claims can be brought in cases of egregious, intentional employer misconduct.

In this case, the plaintiff was injured by a bromine spill that was caused by a defective hose. Although the company had been previously warned about defects with the hose, and the North Carolina Department of Labor, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, found numerous state and federal safety violations after the accident, the court rejected planitiff's Woodson claim because the company did not have notice of an impending catastrophic bromine spill. The court concluded that because the company did not have that type of notice, its actions were not sufficiently intentional to support to Woodson claim. This case demonstrates just how narrow the Woodson exception really is.