Slips and Falls Injuries at Work:
North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law
Slip and fall injuries are incredibly common – both inside and outside of the workplace. About 9.2 million people were treated at emergency rooms for fall-related injuries in 2016, according to the National Safety Council. The difference is that, when you’re injured in a fall at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
The law covers injuries that occur 1) by accident and 2) during the course and scope of employment. More than 27% of workplace injuries are caused by slips, trips, and falls according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Generally speaking, a slip and fall is treated like any other workplace injury, and you make your workers’ compensation claim the same way. There are some well-known culprits that are responsible for slip and fall injuries, and some surprising rules that may make some of these injuries eligible for compensation – even if you wouldn’t think so!
What Causes Slip and Fall Injuries at the Workplace?
Most people don’t even think about the dangers of slipping and falling. Certain industries, like construction, are much more aware of it. But you don’t have to be on a job site to be hurt by a fall on the job. Everyone from builders to bankers could be at risk.
Here are some examples of the ways slip and fall injuries could occur. This is by no means an exhaustive list!
Leaks and Spills – Anything from water to coffee can make a surface slippery. Maybe there’s a leak in a pipe or from the climate control system. Maybe someone just fumbled their morning beverage. This can happen anywhere, including break rooms, kitchens, and even walk-in refrigerators.
Residue, Ice, or Drainage – Maybe there was an oily substance on the shop floor that wasn’t properly cleaned, or poor maintenance has led to puddles forming after a storm. Maybe some wet surfaces froze overnight, creating an icy layer. Maybe the landscapers were using blowers to clean the area and blew a bunch of sand onto the floor, making it slippery.
Trip Hazards – These are usually the most obvious things, and people still fall victim to them. Loose seams in carpet, tall thresholds at doorways, and even the welcome mat in front of a door can cause a fall.
Faulty Equipment – For example, some scaffolding was improperly assembled and wobbles, causing a fall – or collapses entirely. Or, maybe the wheels in a typical office chair are stuck or broken, causing the chair to topple over when someone sits in it.
Collisions – Someone or something bumps into you and causes you to fall. The collision itself may not hurt you. But what if someone is pushing a wheelbarrow along a platform where you’re working and gives you a nudge, causing you to lose your balance? What if someone opens a door and you’re not expecting it, and you fall? Maybe someone bumps into you in a hallway while they’re watching their phone instead of where they’re going and you hit the tile floor.
No matter the cause, the point is that you accidentally and unexpectedly slipped and/or fell, and were injured as a result. Plus, if a hazard was caused by a third party, you may have an additional claim. For example, if a cleaning company hired to keep your office clean left a wet floor and no warning sign.
Slip and Fall Injuries and the North Carolina “Coming and Going” Rule
In North Carolina, the law basically assumes everyone has to go to work, and so injuries you incur during your commute aren’t generally the responsibility of your employer – the risk is not particular to you or your employment. This is what’s known as the “Coming and Going” Rule (also sometimes written as the “Going and Coming” Rule). However, there are some exceptions and additional rules in the law that may make your slip and fall injury compensable.
The “Traveling Salesman” Exception
Normally, when you travel to and from work, it’s not considered part of your job, and therefore it isn’t covered under workers’ compensation law. But what if traveling is part of the job? Let’s say you are a salesperson or a tradesperson who travels to perform service calls. In either case, you’re traveling in the course of your job. If you slip and fall in the driveway or in someone’s house, you’re generally covered under the law.
Now, if you decided to take a detour to grab some lunch – which is not a work-related task – you may not be covered. Cases like these can be very circumstantial, and insurers may argue against compensation. We recommend that you consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney regarding your case.
The “Contractual Duty” Exception
This depends on the employer providing transportation or compensation for the employee traveling to and from work. For example:
- A work van is provided to carry tools and such, and the employee is expected to go straight to work. Think HVAC technician, plumber, or network installer.
- The company provides a company car for the employee to use to travel to the office or multiple offices.
- The company compensates the employee for travel in the form of a mileage reimbursement.
In any of these cases, the company expects travel as part of the duty of the job – the employee is being compensated for their travel because it is part of their “contractual duty.”
In this case, you’re on the job as soon as you leave the house. Slip and fall injuries you suffer would likely be compensable. For example, if you stop to get gas, and slip and fall, the injury would likely be covered.
The “Special Errand” and “Dual Purpose” Rules
Sometimes, what you have to do for work coincides with something you have to do for yourself. There are rules that determine whether or not you’re covered in these cases.
The Special Errand Rule applies to people who are performing a duty beyond the normal requirements of their jobs and are injured during the course of that duty. Let’s say you’re directed by a supervisor to pick up items for an office gathering. The rule only applies if you’re performing a duty that benefits your employer. So, if you stop at the party store on the way home from work to pick up supplies for the office gathering, you may be covered if you fall while you’re at the party store.
The Dual Purpose Rule comes into effect when you’re doing something for work and doing something for yourself at the same time. For example, as an administrative assistant, you’re sent to ship some items for your boss. At the same time, you ship a gift to a relative. On your way into the Post Office or shipping store, you slip and fall on the sidewalk. In this case, you could be covered, because you were acting on behalf of your employer and not just yourself. The two actions happened to coincide.
Can I Sue My Employer for a Slip and Fall Injury at Work?
Generally, the answer will be no. Workers’ compensation law in North Carolina is written to ensure benefits for as many workers as possible with as few lawsuits as possible. This is an oversimplification, but basically, workers who are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits get those benefits (and employers agree to provide them) in lieu of a lawsuit to argue fault, etc.
It is worth noting that, in North Carolina, there are situations where a worker is not entitled to benefits – being intoxicated on the job, for example, generally bars the worker from receiving benefits from an injury resulting from their own intoxication.
If You Slip and Fall at Work…
Seek medical treatment for your injuries, notify your employer, and we recommend contacting an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the circumstances of your case.
Slip and Fall Injuries While Working From Home in North Carolina
With more and more businesses allowing or enabling employees to work remotely from home, you might wonder. “Am I covered if I slip and fall while I’m working from home?” It’s not necessarily a new question, but it’s going to be asked a lot more.
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re covered for any accident at home. The requirements listed above still apply. You need to prove that you sustained a compensable accident that arose out of your employment and occurred during the course of your employment.
Think of “accidents” as unexpected interruptions of your normal work routine (i.e. you’re doing your job in the usual way; then something unusual happens).
When working from home, the accident must “arise out of your employment” to qualify. For example, if you’re working in a home office and trip on a rug while attempting to grab a work-related document off the printer, you may have a viable workers’ compensation claim. On the other hand, if you injure yourself while completing a personal errand at home during your workday, you might not. It all depends on the individual circumstances of your accident.
Finally, a compensable accident has to occur “in the course of your employment.” In other words, you have to be working in order to be hurt at work. When working remotely, little details can make a big difference. This includes the location of your workspace, your general work hours, and your employer’s requirements with respect to clocking in and out. The time, location, and circumstances of your injury are going to matter so it’s important that you understand these nuances.
If you’re working from home and suffer an injury, it’s probably in your best interests to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss it.
North Carolina Slip and Fall Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall, and you believe you may be entitled to workers’ compensation, contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin online or at 866-900-7078 anytime, 24/7, for a free case evaluation. We have North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation Law on our team, and we’re ready to put our experience to work on your behalf.