Principal shot on way to work suffered a compensable injury

On April 9, 2009, James Hunt, a principal at Fairmount Middle School in Lumberton, was shot on his way to work. Earlier this month, the Court of Appeals affirmed a decision determining that Mr. Hunt suffered an injury that arose out of and was within the scope of his employment. (A full copy of the opinion can be found here).

The central issue in this case was something called the “coming and going rule”. Generally speaking, if you are in some type of accident while driving to or from work, it is not a compensable “injury by accident”, the standard required to have a compensable workers compensation injury in North Carolina. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and it appears that the Court of Appeals has carved out another exception in this case.

The Court of Appeals looked at several things in coming to this conclusion. First, evidence was presented to suggest that the shooting was related to Mr. Hunt’s anti-gang activities at the school. Second, the Court of Appeals found evidence that Mr. Hunt was on his cell phone with a school staff member at the time of the shooting. In addition, the phone he was using was paid for by the school district.

Finally, the Court of Appeals looked to the exceptions to the coming and going rule, one of which is called the “contractual duty” exception. Under this exception, if the employer provides transportation or allowances to cover the cost of transportation, than an exception applies. Because Mr. Hunt was provided a travel allowance, then this exception applied.

I find this to be an extremely interesting case that shows just how complicated the workers compensation laws in this state can be. Very few cases are so black and white that they are either compensable or not. There are many shades of gray – and the facts of these cases are all too important.



Does your Workers Comp Settlement require that you give up your job?

In North Carolina, if you have requested a hearing before one of the Deputy Secretary’s at the Industrial Commission, then you are required to attend mediation prior to the hearing. Insurance companies will sometimes ask you to accept an offer that will not only pay you a lump sum settlement, but will also require you to resign your position or give up other legal rights that are not related to your workers compensation claim. (Insurance Companies are funny about asking you to do a whole lot more than you are legally required to do, while at the same time doing a lot LESS than they are required to do).

Not anymore.  In a recent case, Kee v. Caromont Health, the NC Court of Appeals found that an agreement (also called a “clincher”) that requires a worker to give up their job in addition to accepting a lump sum settlement is not enforceable.  At issue in this case was whether a provision that requires an employee to resign their position could be severed from the remainder of the settlement agreement – and the court found that it could not.

The rationale that the court used in this case was that the agreement did not comply with Rule 502(2)(e), which says that no compromise agreement will be approved unless it contains language which states “That no rights other than those arising under the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act are compromised or released.”

Since the agreement at issue in this case did not contain this language, the agreement as a whole was unenforceable.

If you have a question about whether your Compromise Settlement Agreement is enforceable, please feel free to call NC Workers Compensation Lawyer James Hart at (919) 460-5422.