North Carolina Appellate Court Rejects Constitutional Privacy-Based Request to Seal Workers’ Compensation Awards Decision

In a workers’ compensation claim, the injured employee usually must undergo medical examinations to determine the nature and extent of his or her injury. This often involves assessing any pre-existing injuries, which raises issues about protecting the worker’s privacy regarding his or her medical information. As seasoned North Carolina work injury lawyers, we understand how daunting and confusing the claims process can be and we understand the concerns that you likely have about putting your medical history on display. We are standing by and ready to help you determine whether seeking workers’ compensation benefits is right for you.

In a recent claim, the North Carolina appellate court considered the scope of privacy rights regarding medical information that applies to an award of benefits. When the Industrial Commission enters an Award, it provides a written decision explaining its reasoning and basis for making the award. Judges must provide the evidentiary bases for reaching a conclusion regarding whether or not a claimant is entitled to benefits. These evidentiary findings include medical records, as well as expert witness reports and testimony regarding the claimant’s medical condition and health history. The Awards are then uploaded into a publicly available database that can be searched online.

In the case at hand, the plaintiff suffered an injury when he slipped and fell on a wet floor while moving pallets at work, resulting in a lower back injury. During the claim, the employer’s insurance company claimed that the plaintiff was no longer disabled and that he had failed to cooperate with the medical care and further treatment authorized and paid for by the insurer. The plaintiff refuted these allegations. His attorney sought permission to withdrawal, which was granted, and the plaintiff proceeded pro se. This means that he represented himself without counsel.

The plaintiff then moved to have his entire case file sealed on privacy grounds. The Commission concluded that he did not provide any evidence that would justify treating his claim differently than other injured workers seeking benefits under the laws. His request was denied and he appealed stating that it was a violation of his privacy rights under the US Constitution.

On review, the appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s allegations relying on the legislature’s determination that the Awards should be public records. Providing the information that gives rise to an Awards decision is necessary to ensure that claims for benefits are resolved impartially and with well-reasoned decisions, reasoned the court. This provides governmental transparency as well as a basis for appellate review should the claimant wish to challenge the Award decision. Because of this, the appellate court ultimately concluded that the public interest in having access to the Awards decisions outweighed the plaintiff’s personal privacy interests.

If you were hurt on the job, you may be entitled to benefits and compensation for medical expenses. Our seasoned team of work injury lawyers at Maurer Law have handled a wide variety of claims and injuries on behalf of injured persons throughout North Carolina. Whether you are simply wanting more information about your rights or you have already filed a claim with your employer, we are here to help you seek the outcome that you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call us at 1-844-817-8058 or contact us online.

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