Our client, an associate veterinarian, was injured by a horse she was treating and lost all vision in her eye. Our client’s employer didn’t want to pay her workers compensation benefits at the rate we thought she was entitled to, so we went to a hearing at the North Carolina Industrial Commission. After the hearing, a Deputy Commissioner issued his decision, and we won for our client on two issues: her average weekly wage and permanent damage to an important body part.
First, in North Carolina, an injured employee is entitled to workers’ compensation payments based on her weekly earnings, otherwise known as “average weekly wage.”
An employee’s average weekly wage is the average gross wages paid per week for the 52 weeks before the injury. If you didn’t work for a full year before the injury, there are other ways to find out your average weekly wage. One way is to look at what you earned in the weeks you did work. Another way is to see how much you earned after the injury. Finally, another way is to see how much another employee with a similar job makes per week and use that amount. The Commission must use the method that is most fair.
Our client only worked ten days in her position before she was injured. Then, when she returned to work she didn’t earn as much as she could have because of her eye injury. Her employer only wanted to pay her workers’ compensation based on her wages after the injury, but those wages were less than what other veterinarians with comparable experience were earning.
Our client was awarded workers’ compensation based on the wages of a similar employee, which gave her a higher average weekly wage than what her employer offered to pay.
For the second issue, in North Carolina, an injured employee is entitled to compensation for the permanent damage of an important part of the body.
Our client lost the vision in her eye, but she also has continuing pain in the eyelid. Her doctor testified that the pain was likely from damage to a structure behind the eye called the trochlea, meaning she had two injured body parts, not one. The employer was willing to pay for the damage to the optic nerve, which caused the blindness, but it wanted to limit the amount of compensation for the permanent damage to the trochlea. The Industrial Commission ordered the employer to pay more for the damage to the trochlea than that employer thought it should have to pay.