Case name: Hedges v. Wake County Public School System, No. COA09-1305 (N.C. Ct. App. 09/07/10).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a worker's unexplained fall was compensable and that she was entitled to attorney's fees.
What it means: When a fall is unexplained and the North Carolina Industrial Commission doesn't find that an independent force and condition caused the fall, then an inference arises that the fall arose out of the employment. However, a worker must still prove causation in cases involving unexplained falls.
Summary: A worker for a school stumbled and fell when she walked into a workroom to make copies of payroll materials. She was carrying paperwork, so she was unable to steady herself, and she landed on her right arm. The worker testified that there was nothing to impede her walking when she fell. She was diagnosed with a massive rotator cuff tear. The school argued that the worker's injury was not compensable. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the worker's injuries due to the unexplained fall were compensable.
The court found there was no dispute that the injury was sustained in the course of the worker's employment. She was on the premises of the school, the accident occurred during working hours, and she was engaged in her duties when she fell. Additionally, the injury was an accident. The court stated that a fall that results from the worker's normal work routine and normal conditions may still be considered an accident.
The school argued that the worker should not have been entitled to attorney's fees. The court noted that a worker is entitled to attorney's fees if the employer lacks reasonable grounds to bring a hearing. The court explained that the school's only argument was that since the worker did not know why she fell, there was no causal connection between her fall and the employment. A previous case rejecting the same argument was controlling precedent, so the court stated that the school's decision to pursue the action was unreasonable. The worker was entitled to attorney's fees.
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December 2, 2010
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