Employers seek reversal of court decision

The North Carolina Association of Self-Insurers is among employer groups and insurers asking the state Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling in Wilkes v. City of Greenville. The groups contend the appellate court's decision threatens to make employers liable even for medical conditions unrelated to a work-related injury.

Joining NCASI in supporting the appeal by Greenville are North Carolina Chamber, North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, North Carolina Home Builders Association, Employers Coalition of North Carolina, North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, North Carolina League of Municipalities, and the North Carolina School Boards Association.

The Property Casualty Insurers of America and American Insurance Association are also part of this effort, which consists of two amici curiae briefs and an appeal by Greenville. NCASI president Jay Norris says "our association had no hesitation in joining this fight and supporting it financially. Every employer should pay close attention to this case as it could have far-reaching implications."

In Wilkes v. City of Greenville, the Court of Appeals ruled that it is the employer who must prove the injured worker's anxiety and depression are not related to his physical injuries, rather than putting the burden of proof on the claimant, as traditional. Wilkes was driving a truck when a third party ran a red light and collided with his vehicle, causing injuries to his head, ribs, neck, back, pelvis, and left hip.

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Court ruled that by filing a Form 60 the City of Greenville had accepted his injuries as work-related and, therefore, Wilkes was entitled to the presumption that the additional medical treatments he sought for his symptoms of anxiety and depression were directly related to his compensable injury (the so-called Parsons presumption).

"Our case law since Perez has made clear that the Parsons presumption applies even where the injury or symptoms for which additional medical treatment is being sought is not the precise injury originally deemed compensable," the Court ruled.

The parties filing the amici briefs contend the Form 60 filed by Greenville expressly limited the injuries accepted as those sustained to Wilkes's "ribs, neck, legs and entire left side." They argue North Carolina appellate courts have consistently held that the Parsons presumption does not extend to alleged injuries or conditions which have not been accepted by defendants or ruled compensable by the Industrial Commission.

"To allow an employee to recover benefits for a new condition without the production of medical evidence documenting a causal link would violate one of the most basic tenets of civil law and inappropriately transition the Workers' Compensation Act to the field of general health insurance," one of the briefs states.

The employer groups also warn that if the appeal court's decision is allowed to stand it would drive employers to contest even seemingly acceptable claims out of fear that if they accept a claim they may be accepting unforeseeable liability.

"Since the inception of North Carolina's workers' compensation system, establishment of a causal relationship between an employee's injury and his or her employment has been a fundamental requirement to receive workers' compensation benefits,' they say, in urging the Supreme Court to intervene in this matter.