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North Carolina woman gets new chance at employer negligence claim

In the difficult months after her son's on-the-job death, a North Carolina woman was denied the opportunity to pursue a lawsuit, despite laws that should've allowed the claim to move ahead. The young man was employed by a staffing agency to work at a county landfill. Because her son was working for a subcontractor, the woman believes she should have the ability to pursue a third-party claim against the county.

While working at the landfill, a trash compactor (operated by a full-time county employee) struck the young man and buried him in the trash. Although he was brought to a hospital for treatment, he quickly succumbed to his injuries.

The temporary-employment agency gave the man's mother survivor benefits in accordance with the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, but she felt as though the county's negligence leading to her son's death warranted additional action. However, an initial court ruling declared that the woman was unable to pursue compensation because of the workers' compensation payout.

Despite that judgment, the mother pressed forward with an appeal that was ultimately successful. A court will now hear the wrongful death claim on the grounds that the young man worked as a subcontractor, not a county employee.

In many cases, employees' loved ones will explore all of their options after a fatal workplace accident. Under state laws, accepting workers' compensation benefits will often waive a person's ability to file a civil claim. However, an employee's role with a subcontractor can open the door to third-party claims. Understanding employee-employer relationships in terms of state workers' compensation laws can be a tricky endeavor, but answers are available for those who need them.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Suit Over Landfill Killing Will Get Another Shot," Jeff D. Gorman, Jan. 9, 2013

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