North Carolina has been rather inconsistent in ruling on injuries that occur from work accidents related to weather conditions.
As a general rule, where the employment subjects a worker to a special or a particular hazard from the elements such as excessive cold or heat, likely to produce sunstroke or freezing, death or disability resulting from such causes usually are payable.
On the other hand, where the employee is not by reason of his or her work peculiarly exposed to an injury by sunstroke or frostbite, such injuries are not ordinarily payable. The test is whether the employment subjects the worker to a greater hazard or risk than that to which the worker would otherwise be exposed.
In a case in which a bus driver was compelled to change a tire on the defendant’s bus during very cold weather and contracted pneumonia, the worker was denied workers’ compensation benefits.
In another case, the worker was in the employer’s plant when he was struck by a tornado which caused a partial collapse of the building. The court held that the worker could not recover from his injuries, which directly resulted from the partial collapse of the building. According to the court, there was no causal or connection between the employment and the accident.
The court has ruled that there could be recovery in a case of the death of an employee from heat exhaustion or sunstroke. The evidence was that the temperature outside was 104 degrees, and the employee’s work required that he be in close proximity to melted lead, which increased the temperature in the building where the employee was working on the day of his death.
A carpenter caught in a storm while working was struck by lightning when he went to a nearby house under construction by his employer to get out of the rain. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the circumstances of the carpenter’s employment peculiarly exposed him to the risk of injury from lightning greater than that of others in the community. Among the factors which the court considered were the following:
- The worker was standing near a window talking with his employer and wearing wet clothes
- The was wearing a carpenter’s nail apron with nails therein
- All damage to the worker’s clothes and marks on the body were from the waist down
- The nail apron was knocked off his body
- A hole was burned in the nail apron
- A majority of the nails in the nail apron were fused
As noted in the differing cases above, weather-related work injuries in North Carolina are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Seek medical care, gather adequate evidence, consult with a workers' comp attorney, and ensure you have a strong case when filing for workers' comp.