Many North Carolina workers worry that if they report a work injury, they will be deported, stalked, arrested, harassed, or worse. In theory, North Carolina law protects injured workers – including undocumented workers – from criminal action or retaliation after they file a work injury claim. Such protections are important to reassure workers that they can report a work injury without fear for their own safety and security.
Although many employers and insurers play by the rules, from time to time, certain unscrupulous employers and insurers resort to illegal tactics to get back at workers who exercise their legal rights. In an important case this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals used strong language to punish a workers’ compensation servicing agent for actions it took against a worker after he won his workers’ compensation claim. Because of this opinion, the worker now has the right to collect very substantial monetary damages over and above his workers’ compensation benefits.
In Seguro-Suarez v. Key Risk (Sept. 4, 2018), after the injured worker won his workers’ compensation case, the servicing agent “Key Risk” hired an investigator to perform surveillance of the worker, then used that surveillance to accuse the worker of committing insurance fraud. The Court found that Key Risk’s actions, including the surveillance and its accusations of insurance fraud, were illegal and amounted to malicious prosecution. Key Risk, probably hoping to reduce the amount of damages it would have to pay the worker, asked for the case to be moved to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, where high damages such as punitive damages usually are not allowed. Using heated language against Key Risk for its behavior, the Court of Appeals denied Key Risk’s request and granted the worker the right to pursue his claims against Key Risk in civil court. In so doing, the Court of Appeals sent Key Risk – and all other workers’ compensation insurers and servicing agents across the State – that North Carolina courts do not tolerate unlawful treatment of injured workers. In other words, insurers who mistreat injured workers will get more than a slap on the hand – they will be punished in civil court, where monetary damages can be very substantial.
The morale of the story? Don’t be afraid to file a workers’ compensation claim in North Carolina. If an employer or insurer tries to violate your rights, the court system will make sure they are severely punished. North Carolina insurers just received a valuable lesson – don’t mess with injured workers. Contact an attorney at Copeley, Johnson & Groninger for a consultation.
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