Most employees understand that if one is injured while on the job, he or she may recover through the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. What many employees do not know is that this is usually the exclusive remedy. That is, in most cases, an employee may not choose to file a separate personal injury action where he or she seeks damages for pain and suffering. For the most part, the employee is limited to the types of damages available through the workers’ compensation system and the North Carolina Industrial Commission. There are exceptions to this general rule, though. Among those exceptions is a so-called Pleasant claim.
In Pleasant v. Johnson, 312 N.C. 710, 325 S.E.2d 244 (1985), the North Carolina Supreme Court created an exception to the exclusivity provision of the workers’ compensation system that allows employees injured by the willful, wanton, and reckless negligence of a co-employee to sue that co-employee directly in a common law action. This is an important exception, as the damages recoverable in a common law action typically exceed those available through the workers’ compensation system. For instance, the workers compensation system may limit the period of your recovery of lost wages and does not allow for awards of physical, mental, or emotional pain and suffering. There are no such arbitrary barriers to common law negligence claims brought in the North Carolina trial courts.
The recent North Carolina Supreme Court case of Trivette v. Young, No. 32A12 (2012) discussed Pleasant claims in detail. In Trivette, a school principal, while horsing around, accidentally discharged a fire extinguisher, causing the plaintiff’s neuromuscular disease to come out of remission. There were two primary legal issues. The first question was whether the principal was a co-employee of his assistant or was her employer. If he was the latter, the Pleasant claim would not have existed. The Supreme Court easily determined that he was merely a fellow employee, as they were both paid by the same employer and a certain North Carolina statute described principals as employees of the local board of education.
The more difficult question in Trivette was whether the defendant’s conduct rose to the level of willful and wanton. The Court ultimately determined it did not, as the principal could not have reasonably known that the discharge of the extinguisher would lead to the plaintiff’s disease going out of remission. This is an important point in litigating Pleasant claims; you essentially need to prove that the defendant knew or should have known his conduct was likely to lead to injury. This is a high standard but is not an impossible one to meet, depending upon the facts of your case.
If you have been injured on the job, the Raleigh workers compensation and personal injury attorneys of Maginnis Howard can help. Our lawyers offer free consultations and take all new accident injury cases on a contingency basis. This means that you pay no fee unless and until we make a recovery on your behalf.
To discuss your workers compensation or Pleasant claim with Maginnis Howard, call us at (919) 526-0450. You may also send a confidential email inquiry using our contact page. The Raleigh law firm of Maginnis Howard regularly represents clients in and around eastern North Carolina, including Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Apex, and Greenville.