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Worker falls while on break, gets workers' compensation benefits

One issue that often arises is whether a worker's injury was work-related or arose out of the employment. The general principle in North Carolina and elsewhere is that the injury must arise out of and in the course of employment in order to be entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The reported case is from a nearby state but its legal principles would apply in North Carolina as well.

A 65-year-old cashier for Giant Food LLC had stopped bagging groceries to go on her break. While heading for the store's bathroom, her purse caught on a hook hanging from a merchandise shelf, causing her to fall. At the hospital, she had knee, arm and shoulder pain. The hospital said that her knee was not fractured or dislocated but she had a fractured left arm. She eventually returned to work but continued to have problems, including ongoing knee pain.

She filed a petition, which began the process of obtaining ongoing workers compensation benefits. An orthopedic specialist concluded that her kneecap had been fractured and that surgery was necessary for both the shoulder and the kneecap. He certified her disabled and unable to work. He affirmed her sustaining a serious work injury. The employer challenged benefits on the basis that she was not injured while on the job.

The Workers' Compensation Commission of Virginia ruled that the injury arose out of the employment, because the employment placed her in the position of having a fall at her workplace. Furthermore, it was a workplace hazard, i.e., the shelf hook that triggered the accident. She was entitled to workers' compensation benefits for the injuries, all of which were work-related. The employer appealed to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, which affirmed her entitlement to workers' compensation benefits.

The court explained that the hook on the merchandise shelf was a hazard associated with the workplace and that her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. The same result should apply in North Carolina. Courts will generally define broadly the concept of 'arising out of employment'. Workers' compensation benefits will usually be awarded if an accident occurs at the workplace during a break.

Source: hr.blr.com, "Virginia workers' comp: Store employee injured during break seeks benefits," June 25, 2013

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