Michael Coward, an employee with Weyerhaeuser for more than 35 years, was severely burned by a steam line. It was a case where Mr. Coward did nothing wrong. He was hospitalized at a burn center and will need to care for the large burn for his lifetime. Yet the employer refused to pay the proper compensation that he was owed under the law for the permanent damage to his skin.
In North Carolina, an employee is entitled to three things after a workers’ compensation injury:
- payment for lost time from work. Payment is made at 2/3 of the average wages from the year before the injury.
- payment of medical expenses.
- payment for permanent damage to the parts of the body injured.
Many employees receive a rating to the injured body part once they have healed. For a body part such as arm or a leg or a back, a doctor gives a percentage for continuing pain and loss of function. Each body part is worth a set number of weeks that is listed in the law. For example, a 10% rating to the back equals to 30 weeks at the worker’s compensation rate. But for body organs that are damaged, such as a spleen or a kidney, a maximum amount of $20,000 can be awarded.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. Twenty thousand dollars for damage to the skin when a person is burned at work is not that much money for the damage! And although a serious burn injury causes extreme pain and suffering, like in any workers’ comp case, no money is payable for it.
Despite his burn injury, Mr. Coward went back to his job. Some people would not be able to choose the permanent damage award, because they cannot go back work. Those workers who are unable to work because of the injury “choose” to get continuing weekly payments rather than a rating.
Mr. Coward was given the full amount of the award.