North Carolina may have the toughest workers’ compensation law of any state in the country. North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act only provides benefits “when an injury by accident” arises out of the course of employment. The law further defines an accident as “an unlooked for and untoward event which is not expected or designed by the person who suffers the injury.”
Under this definition, North Carolina courts have rejected workers’ compensation claims in circumstances where the claims would be readily granted in other states. For example, in one leading case, the North Carolina Supreme Court found a firefighter’s heart attack during a fire was a non-compensable injury on the grounds that “the work in which the deceased was engaged was the usual work incident to his employment. The surrounding conditions might be expected at a fire. The falling in of a roof is a natural result of a fire burning there. We find no evidence of an accident.”
It was thus a tough road that faced Alfred Ferreyra, a deputy sheriff in Cumberland County, North Carolina. While on patrol, Ferreyra responded to a young woman’s request for assistance with her mother. The mother had stopped breathing while in her daughter’s car.
Ferreyra was certified in CPR, but had never had occasion to use CPR during his eight years as a deputy sheriff. After performing 21 sets of five chest compressions on the mother, Ferreyra felt a sharp pain in his head, and another deputy took over performing the CPR. When his pain continued, Ferreyra went to a hospital, where he was diagnosed as suffering from a brain aneurysm.
The County denied Ferreyra’s workers’ compensation claim on the grounds that his injury was not the product of an “accident.” Somewhat surprisingly, the North Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court based its opinion on the fact that deputies rarely perform CPR. The Court found that Ferreyra “did not need to show that the overexertion which was the cause of his injury occurred while he was engaged in some unusual activity.” Instead, the Court found that it was the “extent and nature of the exertion that classifies the resulting injury as an accident.”
Ferreyra v. Cumberland County, 623 S.E.2d 825 (N.C.App. 2006).
This article appears in the March 2006 issue