One of the common misconceptions I hear is that an injured workers who is at fault in his NC workers’ compensation injury should not be able to collect workers’ compensation. In North Carolina, this is entirely untrue. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system.
Workers’ Compensation is a trade-off between employers and workers. Employers provide limited benefits, primarily wage replacement and medical treatment. The injured worker’s average wage is set on the date of the injury with no opportunity for a cost of living increase, and payments are reduced by at least a third of the pre-injury wage. There is no recovery for pain and suffering or for the very real inconvenience that comes with being injured. In return injured employees do not have to show that their employer was at fault, and can recover even if the employee is at fault.
There are a few important exceptions to the no-fault rule in workers’ compensation cases in North Carolina. First, no compensation is payable if the injury or death was caused by intoxication or illegal drug use. This exception does not apply if the employer provides the alcohol. The burden is on the employer to show that the employee was appreciably impaired and that the impairment in fact caused the injury. A qualified drug or alcohol test showing actual impairment, as opposed to the mere presence of alcohol or drugs in the system, may be sufficient to show impairment.
Second, no compensation is payable if the employer proves that the injury or death was caused by the employee’s intention to injure or kill himself or someone else. But read this blog post about suicide in NC workers’ comp cases.
Finally, when a NC workers’ compensation injury or death is caused by the willful failure of an employer to comply with a safety statute or order, compensation can be increased by ten percent (10%). And when the injury or death is caused by the willful failure of the employee use a safety appliance or comply with a safety rule then compensation can be reduced by ten percent (10%).