Claim that employer destroyed evidence doesn't bring compensability presumption
Case name: Holloway v. Tyson Foods, Inc., No. COA07-930 (N.C. Ct. App. 11/04/08).
What it means: In North Carolina, if an employer intentionally destroys evidence within its control before it is made available to an injured employee, a court may, but is not required to, infer that the evidence destroyed would harm the employer's interests.
Summary: A maintenance worker in the employer's packing department was required to clean printers that were prone to blockages. While clearing a blockage, the worker fell. A coworker called the plant nurse, who found the worker without a pulse. Emergency medical technicians arrived and transported him to a medical center, where he was diagnosed with cardiac arrest that led to brain injury. After the commission denied the worker's claim, he argued that the employer's failure to preserve the equipment involved in the accident warranted sanctions -- specifically, a presumption that his claim was compensable, costs incurred for accident investigation, and attorney's fees. The Court of Appeals upheld the commission's denial of the claim, concluding that the worker misunderstood the law regarding spoliation of evidence.
Once it was presented with testimony from the worker's expert that implied that the employer had refurbished the printer in anticipation of inspection, the commission could have drawn an adverse inference against the employer. However, the commission did not credit the expert's testimony, and its decision not to draw an adverse inference was "reasonable and legally permissible," the court said. Further, the presumption of compensability has not been extended to cases in which the employee survives his injury.
The worker also claimed that the employer's delay in calling 911 entitled him to compensation because "hazardous conditions of employment" contributed to his injury. The court disagreed, reasoning that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the worker suffered more severe brain damage because of the claimed delay.
December 1, 2008
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