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N.C. Court of Appeals Overturns Lower Court Order Barring Woman from Seeking Damages for Accident that Killed Her Son

Law5_07312014A Cleveland County woman brought suit against the county after her son was killed in an accident at the Self-McNeilly Solid Waste Management Facility. A lower court ruled that the woman could not pursue damages for negligence since she had already received workers' compensation benefits, but the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, saying that the county was not protected by workers' compensation law since the man who died was not an employee of the county, but was a temporary worker covered by another company's workers' compensation insurance.

The plaintiff's son was 24 years old at the time of his death and lived with his mother. He was an employee of WorkForce Staffing, a temporary employment agency that contracted him out to work at the county landfill as a "spotter," helping to guide dump trucks and other vehicles through the landfill. In February 2010, the man was spotting a trash compactor with a "backup camera" that did not have adequate visibility. The driver unknowingly ran over the plaintiff's son and pushed him into a pile of trash.

Another driver spotted the man in the pile later and called for help. The man died at the hospital later that day.

The plaintiff collected workers' compensation benefits from WorkForce Staffing. However, the lower court ruled that she could not also collect damages from the county or the driver because her claims were already covered by the Workers' Compensation Act.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiff's son was not an employee or a special employee of the county since the county made explicitly clear in its contract with WorkForce Staffing that he was not to be considered an employee of the county. Therefore, the court ruled, the county was not protected by the Workers' Compensation Act against claims for negligence.

The ruling does not award the plaintiff damages. It only reverses the lower court ruling dismissing her case in pursuit of damages.

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