Workers’ Compensation Opinion Updates

Anderson Jones’ Workers Compensation Defense Attorneys have been closely following recent practice-related opinions issued last week by the Court of Appeals of North Carolina and have summarized them below. Please contact Matthew Blake or Felicia Haigh if you have any questions about these or other Workers’ Compensation Defense matters by email or phone at (919) 277-2541.

In Booth v. Hackney Acquisition Company, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Full Commission’s dismissal of the NCIGA. It reasoned that liberal interpretation of the Guaranty Act could not defeat the plain language of the Act, which demonstrates the legislative intent to constrain the statutorily defined obligations of the NCIGA. The opinion affirmed the application of the bar date and the statute of repose in workers’ compensation claims involving insolvent insurers.

McGuine v. National Copier Logistics, LLC, is a split decision. The majority of the Court of Appeals reversed the Full Commission’s conclusion that no employment relationship existed between plaintiff and National Copier Logistics, LLC. (National) The majority opinion focused on the doctrine of joint employment and the lent employee doctrine and did not reach issues pertaining to statutory employment under N.C.G.S. § 97-19. The majority concluded the employee was simultaneously employed by National and NCL Transportation, LLC (NCL). NCL admitted being plaintiff’s Ohio employer but was uninsured for North Carolina workers’ compensation. The majority ultimately concluded that all work for NCL was the work of National, which had in implied contract of employment with the employee and exerted control over the details of the employee’s work
The dissent suggested the standard of review creates a presumption favoring the Commission’s findings and conclusions that the employee failed to overcome on appeal. The dissent applied a similar analysis regarding joint employment but reached the opposite conclusion. It distinguished the employee’s claim from case law involving a temporary agency on which the majority relied. The dissent would have affirmed the Commission’s conclusion that there was not simultaneous employment by both defendants. The dissent also addressed statutory employment under section 97-19 and focused on the absence of proof that National subbed out its obligations out to NCL. The split decision provides the parties an appeal of right to our Supreme Court.

In McSwain v. Industrial Commercial Sales & Services, LLC, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s denial of a travelling employee’s claim for a slip and fall in the lobby of his hotel. The employee and coworkers traveled out of town for a project that wrapped up a day early. To save the $2,400 cost of changing flight arrangements, the employer instructed its employees to stay out of town and take their scheduled flight. This gave employees a ‘free day” out of town. On the free day, the employee started a load of laundry in the hotel laundry room, left to socialize in the hotel with coworkers, and when returning for his laundry, slipped and fell in the hotel lobby. After discussing several cases, the Court held that doing laundry was of no benefit to the employer and affirmed the Commission’s conclusion that the injuries did not arise out of the employee’s employment. The Court cited Ramsey v. N.C. Indus., 178 N.C. App. 25, 630 S.E.2d 681 (2006) to discuss the increased risk of assault during a hotel stay compared to the risk of assault while at one’s home, but the opinion did not analyze increased risk for a slip and fall in a hotel lobby after the employer’s instruction to remain out of town and save the employer $2,400. The Court’s focus on the benefit to the employer of doing laundry implies that the instruction by and savings for the employer did not increase the employee’s risk of injury from a slip and fall in the hotel lobby.