For Elon Law students, real-time study of workers compensation law
The North Carolina Industrial Commission heard appeals in three cases on Oct. 25, 2017, in the law school's Robert E. Long Courtroom.
A stylist in a Greensboro bridal shop tore her meniscus and suffered a blood clot in her knee when she attempted to force a stuck “mermaid style” wedding dress over the hips of a customer. The question: should she be compensated?
Then you had an employee who sought compensation for neck and cervical injuries resulting from the lifting of heavy moldings and plates while at work, and whether or not his work-related injuries were the proximate cause of several other medical maladies. It also asks whether the employer’s vigorous contesting of its liability for those maladies should require it to pay the employee’s attorney fees.
Finally, there was the employee on a smoke break attacked while working at an oil change shop, “choke-slammed” by an someone at the shop to fill out an employment application. Was the attack sufficiently associated with the employee’s work that the employer should be liable for his injuries?
A three-member, full commission panel of the North Carolina Industrial Commission will decide those questions in the weeks ahead after hearing appeals on Oct. 25, 2017, in Elon Law's Robert E. Long Courtroom. Commissioners scheduled the hearing at the invitation of Elon Law faculty, and their work gave students a firsthand look at the way legal arguments involving workers compensation are often handled.
The hearings illustrate the way Elon Law faculty utilize a working courtroom inside the downtown Greensboro law school.
“Seeing the Commission and the advocates appearing before it in action today was a real treat for our students," said Enrique Armijo, Elon Law's associate dean for academic affairs. "It’s very much consistent with what we try to achieve throughout our program—expose students to real-life issues argued by practicing lawyers on behalf of actual clients."
The Industrial Commission is a state agency that hears cases arising out of North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, which establishes the circumstances under which an employee harmed at work can be compensated for their injuries. Compensation includes injury-related medical expenses as well as disability/wage-replacement payments intended to compensate hurt employees due to their inability to work.
Cases brought under the Act often involve facts analogous to torts cases, such as proximate cause, foreseeability, preexisting conditions, vicarious liability, and scope of employment. Procedurally, cases filed with the Commission are generally heard first by a deputy commissioner, who serves in effect as a trial judge. Appeals of those decisions are heard by a three-commissioner panel made up of members of the Commission.
Judge James L. Gale of the North Carolina Business Court set aside the courtroom for the Commission’s use after Elliot Engstrom, an Elon Law Legal Method and Communication Fellow, approached the Commission with the idea for a visit to Greensboro.
"Not only was the visit from the Industrial Commission a wonderful educational opportunity for our students, but it also provided them with a chance to network with real-world lawyers and judges," Engstrom said. "Many of our students will stay in touch with the practitioners that they met today. These sorts of connections can be helpful in connecting students with summer and post-grad employment opportunities."