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Barnette v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc. - Injury by Accident

The recent Court of Appeals decision, Barnette v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., held that an injury was compensable when an unusual condition is introduced which is likely to result in unexpected consequences, despite the fact that an employee's usual work routine and normal work duties were physically strenuous. 

Plaintiff Barnette started work as a delivery driver for Lowe's Home Centers in 2014. At the time the plaintiff began with the company he had pre-existing back problems that had required medical treatment. On August 8, 2012, Barnette was delivering a refrigerator to a home with another employee from Lowe's. The two employees would need to carry the refrigerator up a narrow twisting flight of stairs in order to get it to the kitchen. As the employees reached the final turn of the stairwell they realized that the refrigerator would not fit and had to take it back down the stairs. Barnette alleged that, near the bottom of the stairs, he lost all feeling in his right hand and forearm.

Twenty to thirty minutes following the delivery, Barnette regained feeling in his hand and was driven back to the local Lowe's store. Barnette testified that he reported what happened to the manager on duty, but could not remember whether he mentioned "all the details". Barnette proceeded to file a claim with the Industrial Commission, which wad denied. A hearing was held before the deputy commissioner, who filed an opinion denying Barnette benefits for failure to show he sustained an injury by accident. The Plaintiff appealed to the Full Commission, who affirmed the denial of benefits.

The Court of Appeals found that while Barnette was engaging in his normal work duty he was forced by unusual circumstances, in this case an unusually narrow staircase, into utilizing an unusual and awkward work technique that was not normally used in his work routine and as a result he sustained an injury which is compensable under North Carolina law.

If you have been injured at work and have questions about a potential workers' compensation claim, contact Miller Law Firm for a free consultation today.

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