Published Date: 06/30/2014
By George Ports
An employee’s ability to recover damages from work-related injuries and/or illnesses outside of benefits provided by the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act is extremely limited. It has been long standing that workers’ compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy for such.
The exclusive remedy position was altered by the 1991 North Carolina Supreme Court decision of Woodson v. Rowland. In this landmark decision, the court held that where an employer intentionally engages in conduct, knowing that such is certain to cause an employee to suffer serious injury or death, the employee or its representatives may pursue actions against an employer in civil court. Such actions, if successful, can result in monetary damages that far exceed those awarded in workers’ compensation claims.
Claimants and their attorneys have not been successful in pursuing Woodson claims due to high legal hurdles. Subsequent court decisions have ruled that claimants or their representatives must be able to establish that the employers’ dangerous or hazardous conduct was substantially certain to occur, adding that the activity or conduct in question was inherently dangerous.
Although most Woodson claims have not made it to trial, the exception does exist. Any time an employee is involved in a work-related accident that results in serious injury or death there is always the possibility of an aggressive claimant’s attorney willing to pursue the claim.
To review a North Carolina Supreme Court case that makes specific reference to Woodson v. Rowland, go to http://j.mp/W-TSN.