The North Carolina workers' compensation court decisions are sometimes harsh and result in a denial of benefits to deserving employees. This is especially true with respect to workers doing hard physical labor who experience back injuries while carrying on the usual and customary duties for their employer.
In recognizing this unfairness to the employee, the North Carolina General Assembly in 1983 added the following to the statutory definition of injury:
With respect to back injuries, however, where injury to the back arises out of and in the course of the employment and is the direct result of a specific traumatic incident of the work assigned, ‘injury by accident’ shall be construed to include any disabling physical injury to the back arising out of and causally related to such incident.
As a result of this very significant amendment to the law, workers who injure their back at work while performing the ordinary and usual duties of their job can now recover workers’ compensation benefits for back injuries. Prior to this amendment to the law, these unfortunate injured workers could not recover anything though they had been seriously disabled while working.
A common example of the kind of injury which is now payable, but which was not payable before the amendment, is a case of a brick layer who stoops down to pick up a load of bricks, and whose back “goes out on him.” Before the amendment, that injured brick layer would not recover. Now, with the amendment to the statute, this event would clearly be payable as a specific traumatic incident. A “specific traumatic incident” need not involve unusual conditions or a departure from the worker’s normal work routine.
Although the law with respect to back injuries has been amended to include more injured workers, there must still be evidence that the specific traumatic incident “caused” injury to the back. In addition, there must be evidence that the injury from the specific traumatic incident occurred within a relevant time period.
The law still requires that the specific traumatic incident resulting in back injury arise out of and in the course and scope of the injured worker’s employment. It is not necessary that the back injury and the pain occur simultaneously. Just because a claimant felt pain for the first time hours after they injured their back did not mean the “specific traumatic incident,” could not have occurred when they said it did.