If you get injured at work, it is important to understand your rights. Most work-related injuries are covered by workers’ compensation. However, there are exceptions all workers need to know about.
A work-related injury has many potential causes. It is not uncommon for the actions of one worker to lead to injury for another worker. Depending on the circumstances of such an accident, you may or may not be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
You should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible if you get injured at work. Call the Whitley Law Firm at (919) 785-5000 today for a free evaluation.
When Workers’ Comp Covers Injuries Caused by Co-Workers
Most employers in North Carolina are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Workers’ compensation provides benefits to employees when they get hurt on the job. Generally, this includes any accident that occurs in the course of an employee’s work—including those caused by a co-worker.
To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, employees must demonstrate that the injury was work-related. Multiple scenarios can result in one worker accidentally injuring another, including:
- Spilled liquids that lead to a slip and fall accident
- Trip and falls caused by objects left in walkways
- Dropped tools and other objects
- Getting caught in unguarded machinery
- Vehicle and heavy equipment accidents
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. Although your injury may have been caused by the carelessness of a co-worker and/or your employer, you do not need to prove that anyone was at fault to have a claim for benefits. In fact, workers are generally barred from filing lawsuits against their employers (and other employees) for work-related injuries caused by negligence.
If you get injured at work, you need to seek medical care and notify your employer of the accident as soon as possible. Your employer will report the injury to its workers’ comp insurance company, and the insurer will investigate to determine liability.
When Workers’ Comp May Not Cover Injuries Caused by Co-Workers
Typically, any injuries you sustain on the job will be covered by workers’ compensation. However, there are some circumstances where the insurance company may deny a claim.
If your injury was caused by a co-worker in the following circumstances, there is a chance that you may not be entitled to workers’ comp:
Workers’ Compensation for Injuries During a Lunch Break
For an injury to be compensable under workers’ compensation, the injury must occur in an “accident arising out of and in the course of the employment” (see North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act § 97-2(6)). Work activities typically cease during lunchtime and other breaks. As such, the question of whether injuries sustained during a lunch break can be complicated.
The North Carolina Supreme Court has handled a number of cases concerning workers’ compensation liability for injuries during employee breaks and off-premises activities (e.g., Freeman v. Triangle Grading Paving, Inc.). Multiple decisions by the court have held that activities permitted by an employer for an employee’s own “health and comfort” while working are still considered actions within the course of employment. This is known as the “personal comfort doctrine,” and it expands the circumstances whereby an injured employee may qualify for workers’ compensation.
Ultimately, whether workers’ comp will cover injuries sustained during a lunch break depends on the specific circumstances of your case.
If you were eating lunch at your workplace (such as in the breakroom, cafeteria, etc.) and your co-worker was acting in the course of his or her job when the injuries were inflicted during your lunch break, you may be covered by workers’ comp. However, if the injury occurred away from the workplace and you and your co-worker were both off work at the time, you probably will not get covered.
Injuries Caused by a Fight with a Co-Worker
Tensions can run high in any workplace. Sometimes the stress of the job can lead to conflicts between co-workers. At times, these conflicts can escalate into physical altercations where one or both employees may suffer injuries.
Workers’ comp insurers will look at two different factors when assessing liability:
- Was the fight about something work-related?
- Did the worker making the claim start the fight?
If the answers to these questions are “Yes” and “No,” respectively, you are likely entitled to benefits. However, if the fight had nothing to do with work and/or you instigated the fight, your injuries will likely not be covered.
Work Injuries Caused by Horseplay
Although finding enjoyment at work is important, it should never be at the expense of someone else’s safety. If you get injured at work as a result of horseplay, your right to benefits will depend on the circumstances.
Generally speaking, any injuries sustained while “goofing off” at work will not be covered. That said, if you were injured while others were goofing off and you were not a part of it, then you should get compensated.
Contact Us If You Get Injured at Work
Work injury claims can be complicated. In addition to workers’ compensation, you may have a personal injury claim for injuries caused by the negligence of a third party. The legal options available to you are probably not obvious, which is why it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible.
Attorneys at the Whitley Law Firm know what’s at stake if you get injured at work. We fully investigate the accident, help you file your claim, and pursue all benefits and other compensation you deserve.
Contact the Whitley Law Firm today. Our lawyers serve workers in Raleigh, Kinston, New Bern, and throughout North Carolina. It won’t cost anything to see if we can help!