North Carolina Appellate Court Issues Ruling in Workers’ Compensation Death Benefit Subrogation Dispute

Work-related injuries are always damaging and disruptive for the employee. In the most unfortunate cases, however, they result in the loss of the worker’s life. North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act allows a surviving relative to seek death benefits to help cope with the financial stress of the sudden and unexpected loss. There are countless considerations and laws that must be taken into account when developing a strategy for recovering damages, and no two cases are alike. As seasoned North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers, we have the skills and experience it takes to ensure that your family receives the fair outcome that it deserves.

Recently, the North Carolina appellate court considered a case in which an employee lost his life in a motor vehicle accident while driving a truck for his employer. He was operating the employer’s vehicle at the time of the crash, which was insured under an auto policy. The order also required the insurer to pay the widow five hundred weekly payments of roughly $650 each and over $8,000 for funeral expenses. The total amount of benefits amounted to approximately $333,000 dollars.

The widow was then appointed as the personal representative for the decedent’s estate. She filed a wrongful death action against the driver who caused the crash and his father. The plaintiff reached a settlement of roughly $950,000 for these claims including the policy limits for the at-fault driver’s auto insurance.

The employer’s insurer then filed a subrogation claim against the widow seeking $333,763 of the $950,000, describing the settlement as a third-party settlement. A deputy commissioner filed an opinion in the defendant’s favor requiring the widow to pay the insurer the roughly $350,000 in subrogation funds that it sought.

The decedent’s widow filed an action to recover death benefits shortly after the accident and the Industrial Commission entered an award making several findings, including a finding that the decedent died in a car crash arising from the course and scope of his employment and that he had six children who were all over the age of eighteen at the time of his death. The plaintiff appealed and the Full Commission upheld the lower court’s ruling.

The plaintiff appealed again on several grounds, including the assertion that the insurer was not allowed to assert a subrogation lien against the underinsured motorist policy benefits because the applicable auto insurance policy originated in South Carolina and a provision of South Carolina law immunizes UIM benefits from subrogation claims. The appellate court sided with the defendants on the grounds that North Carolina’s subrogation law controlled the proceedings because it was the state in which the action was filed.

If you lost a loved one in a work-related accident, you may be entitled to benefits and compensation. At Maurer Law, our North Carolina workers’ compensation and wrongful death lawyers understand that your family is experiencing incredible pain and suffering during this time, which is why we will stand by you through each step of the process to ensure that you understand your legal rights. We provide a free consultation to discuss your situation and whether legal action is right for you. Call us at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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