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Court of Appeals Addresses Injured Workers’ Bad Faith Claims

July 17, 2015 Workers' Compensation

The North Carolina Court of Appeals clarified how “exclusive” the exclusive remedy provisions are in the state’s current workers’ compensation scheme.

Exclusive Remedy

Exclusive remedy provides a person only a single option to address their grievances and hopefully recover compensation. In most injury cases, injured persons pursue a civil lawsuit in order to recover for their damages and to seek justice. In the workers’ compensation system, however, the rules are different. If you have endured a work-related injury, you must instead go through the process laid out in the Workers’ Compensation Act – a system created to efficiently and quickly provide funding to injured workers based on the type of injury they suffered.

However, the law has been unclear on how much its jurisdiction actually covers. While the idea of work-related injury may seem fairly straightforward, there has been confusion as to whether this also includes claims that were ancillary to the original injury claim. The state Court of Appeals clarified its position on this in the case of Bowden v. Young, 2015 WL 659740 (N.C. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2015).

Bowden was injured on the job and while his workers’ compensation claim was pending, he brought a bad faith action (and intentional infliction of emotional distress) against First Liberty Insurance Corp. A bad faith insurance lawsuit claims that the insurance company intentionally handled his claim incorrectly and engaged in other wrongful conduct that resulted in Bowden suffering an emotional injury. Bowden’s lawsuit was challenged under the premise that he had an exclusive remedy under the workers’ compensation system and thus could not pursue a separate civil legal claim. The trial court held in Bowden’s favor and it was then appealed to the higher court.

The Court of Appeals, however, held that Bowden’s claim did fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Workers’ Compensation Act. It has previously held that claims/injuries arising from the processing or handling of the claim by the employer or insurance company fell under this umbrella. As such, an ancillary injury arising from an instance like the insurance company mishandling a worker’s claim would fall under the exclusive remedy of the Act, regardless if it was intentional or just negligent.

While this ruling may not necessarily be in a worker’s favor, it does offer some clarity. Now, injured parties know they have to go through the workers’ compensation system for even injuries caused by the process itself when handling their claim. Such clarification will hopefully save people time and money. The ruling could of course change if Bowden’s side opts to appeal to the state Supreme Court. This is why an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is so important to have on hand. Not only can they walk you through the claims process, but they will remain up-to-speed on the latest developments in the law.

Speak with an Experienced Attorney

The complexities of the workers’ compensation system in North Carolina make it incredibly important that you hire an experienced attorney who can walk you through your claim and help you recover the maximum amount for your injuries. Please contact the attorneys at Wallace Childers PLLC if you need assistance.