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What Do You Think: Could Trucker who Hit Embankment Collect Benefits Despite Late Notice?

21 Sep, 2023 Chris Parker

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Shelby, NC ( – In North Carolina, an employee can file an untimely notice of an injury and still possibly obtain workers’ compensation benefits if she has a reasonable excuse for the delay.

But is ignorance of the injury really an excuse when a trucker’s vehicle hits an embankment so hard it causes her glasses to fly off her face? That was the situation in a case involving two married truckers who were in an accident on Sept. 14, 2016. That day, their front tire exploded, and they crashed into an embankment.

They reported the husband’s injuries to the workers’ compensation carrier right away. The wife, however, told the carrier “she wasn’t hurt that bad.” She later explained that she was focused on getting her husband back to their home state because he preferred to be treated there. The company promptly investigated the accident.

While the employee was sore and stiff after the accident and received prompt medical care, she did not begin to experience much pain until mid-October. But even then, she assumed at the time that the pain was not related to the accident but to her history of sciatica.

In January 2017, she began to experience tingling in her limbs and pain radiating from her neck to her leg. A spinal neurosurgeon diagnosed her with cervical pain and acute left lumbar radiculopathy. He later testified that the injury was caused by the September accident.

The trucking company’s carrier denied the claim because the driver didn’t provide timely notice of her work-related injury.

In North Carolina, an injured worker is required to give written notice of an accident to her employer within 30 days of the accident's occurrence. Otherwise, she may be barred from receiving compensation.
The notice requirement may be waived if: 1) the worker had a reasonable excuse for not giving timely notice; and; 2) the employer was not prejudiced as a result of the failure to give the required notice.

Did the late notice of injury bar the trucker from collecting benefits?
A. Yes. She should have known she was injured, given the seriousness of the accident.
B. No. She didn’t have enough pain or understand the nature of her injury during the 30 days after the accident.

If you chose B you sided with the court in Sprouse v. Mary B. Turner Trucking Company, No. 51A22 (N.C. 06/16/23). The court held that the trucker had a reasonable excuse for not reporting her injury within 30 days and that the untimely notice didn’t cause the company any hardship.

The court pointed out that the trucker didn’t know how serious her condition was or the nature of her injury until January 2017. Up until that point, it was reasonable for her to assume her pain was related to her sciatica. In support of that conclusion, the court pointed to the spinal neurosurgeon’s testimony that the trucker didn’t realize she had a spinal cord issue until he diagnosed her.

The court also stated that, given that the trucker received medical care after the accident, and the company learn of the accident and investigated soon after it occurred, there was insufficient evidence that belated notice caused the company any hardship.

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