Prospective clients sometimes ask me whether, by going forward with their workers' compensation claim, if they are bringing a lawsuit against their employer. The answer is NO!
Under North Carolina state law, employers are actually required to report certain workplace injuries to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, and a claim is then opened on behalf of the injured worker. The injured worker cannot voluntarily decide not to have the claim opened.
Workers' Comp Insurance & the "No Fault" System
Further, employers are required by state law to have insurance for such claims (with some limited exceptions). State law sets forth not only the types of losses for which the injured worker may receive compensation, (such as medical bills and payment of partial income while out of work), but also limits the areas for which the insurance company is responsible.
Since workers' comp is a "no-fault" system (meaning it does not need to be determined who caused the accident, and no one is liable), things work a little differently from other types of accident claims.
For instance, injured workers are not allowed to recover from the insurance company any money for pain and suffering experienced as a result of a work-related injury, no matter how painful the injury or how long such pain lasts. In addition, an injured worker is actually prohibited by law from bringing a separate lawsuit against the employer, or fellow employees, no matter how negligent the employer may have been in causing the worker's injury.
Denials - Like a Lawsuit, But Not Quite
Certainly, there will be times when an insurance company will not agree to pay all or part of a workers' compensation claim. When that happens, disputes are decided by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. Those disputes may involve hearings before a Deputy Commissioner, and take on some of the same aspects of a traditional lawsuit.
The primary differences, however, are that lawsuits are voluntarily brought in civil courts where juries make final decisions, whereas North Carolina workers' compensation law requires employers to report injuries and any disputes may be resolved more promptly by Deputy Commissioners who usually have significant experience applying the very limited laws.
If You've Been Injured, You Need to Act Quickly
If you've been injured at work and you don't think your claim has been reported to the Industrial Commission, you need to act quickly. There are time limits for reporting injuries and you could be barred from much-needed benefits.
For help, contact an attorney immediately. Most NC workers' compensation attorneys will work with you on a "contingency fee," which means they won't take an attorney's fee until they get money for you first.
At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, our workers' comp staff is comprised of several NC Board Certified Workers' Compensation Specialists, a former North Carolina Industrial Commission Special Deputy Commissioner and a former Deputy Commissioner (one of whom was a former state senator), and people who used to work for workers' compensation defense firms.
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