Actual notice arguments insufficient to overcome benefits reversal
Gregory v. W.A. Brown & Sons, et al., No. 447A08 (N.C. 01/29/10).
Ruling: The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed an award of benefits to a worker. It held there was insufficient evidence that the worker's delay in giving written notice of her injury was reasonable. She also failed to show that the employer was not prejudiced by the delay. Two judges dissented.
What it means: In North Carolina, an employee who fails to give her employer written notice of an accident within 30 days can still receive compensation if she proves there was a reasonable excuse and her employer was not prejudiced by the delay.
Summary: A worker filed a claim for a back injury four months after the alleged accident. The employer argued she did not provide written notice within 30 days and that her claim was barred. The worker said the employer had actual notice of her injury and that her lack of timely written notice was not prejudicial. The North Carolina Supreme Court held that the worker presented insufficient factual evidence to support her arguments. The court determined the worker did not establish her employer had actual notice that she was injured on the job. There were questions concerning the time and place of her injury and the role played by her preexisting back condition. It also noted her diagnoses and causation evidence were inconclusive. The court held that regardless of whether the employer had actual notice, the employee did not establish that her delay in providing written notice was reasonable and did not prejudice the employer. The court remanded the case to determine whether the employer was prejudiced by the worker's late notice.
The court pointed out that whether an employer's actual knowledge of an injury is sufficient depends on the facts. When an employer has information such as the employee's name, the time and place of the injury, the relationship of the injury to the employment, and the nature and extent of the injury, such facts could support a conclusion that the employer was not prejudiced by the delay in written notice. In this case, the court noted the human resources department did not believe the worker's injury was work-related because she did not report it as a workers' compensation claim. The court also noted that on the day the worker claimed she was injured, the employer's time records showed she was not at work.
The dissenting judges argued that the majority's decision addressed a "classic straw man." It argued that the issue of whether actual notice was sufficient to trigger the employer's duties had already been decided. The dissent argued the real question was whether the North Carolina Industrial Commission was required to find prejudice when an employer had actual notice of the injury.
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March 18, 2010
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