How to file a workers’ compensation claim after a grocery store injury
There are nearly 3 million people employed in the grocery store industry in the U.S. across more than 62,000 supermarkets. The companies holding the largest market share in the U.S. include the Kroger Company, Albertsons Companies Inc., and Publix Super Markets Inc.
Here in the Carolinas, other popular grocery stores include Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Bi-Lo, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, ALDI and Lowes Foods.
If you’ve been injured while working in one of these stores, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Did You Know? In 2021, grocery store sales in the U.S. amounted to more than $800 billion.
Common grocery store jobs
Grocery stores come in various sizes, from small corner markets to large chain stores. They’re busy and dynamic environments, requiring a dedicated team to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Because of this, there are a variety of jobs and duties that workers at grocery stores may perform, depending on the specific store and the worker’s role.
Some common jobs at grocery stores include the following:
- Stock handlers
- Floral assistants
- Loading dock workers
- Food preparation workers
- Inventory control specialists
- Shipping and receiving clerks
- Support staff such as IT and HR
- Department, store and assistant managers
What are common grocery store worker injuries?
There are more hazards for grocery store workers than one might think. The tasks and responsibilities of grocery store workers are diverse and can include working on the loading docks, stocking shelves, managing storage areas and handling food packaging and preparation.
Given the wide range of duties, it’s not surprising that workers may incur multiple types of injuries.
Some of the common injuries workers may suffer include the following:
- Sprains and strains are suffered commonly by managers, cashiers, baggers and stock handlers.
- Back injuries are common among stock handlers and loading dock workers from repetitive motions and improper lifting techniques.
- Cuts, abrasions and even severed fingers from knives, box cutters, and other sharp objects are common among food prep workers and stock handlers.
- Slip-and-fall injuries are common among stocker handlers and others who work in aisles.
- Broken bones and head injuries can occur from falling objects or motor vehicle accidents (especially among delivery drivers).
- Repetitive stress injuries (like carpal tunnel) often occur in workers like cashiers and food prep workers who perform the same motions repeatedly. These injuries are the most commonly reported injury among grocery store employees, accounting for more than 70% of injuries.
- Occupational diseases are a risk for workers like custodians who have long-term exposure to toxic chemicals or substances.
- Illness from bacterial infections can occur in stockers and food prep workers exposed to bacteria from raw foods.
Additionally, all grocery employees are at risk of physical and emotional injuries from violent customers or coworkers.
The pandemic is yet another danger grocery workers face.
The United Food and Commercial Workers reports that almost 300 retail and meatpacking workers have died from COVID-19, and more than 59,000 have been infected since the beginning of the pandemic.
Grocery store workers are essential employees who get exposed daily to the very virus that caused many people to start working from home. Unfortunately, grocery workers don’t have that option.
Are grocery store employees covered by workers’ compensation?
North Carolina and South Carolina both require most employers to carry workers’ compensation coverage. North Carolina requires it from employers with 3 or more employees, while South Carolina requires it from employers with 4 or more employees.
Grocery store workers are subject to many hazards at work. Fortunately, most are eligible for benefits under the law.
In both states, workers’ compensation is a program of no-fault insurance. If you are injured on the job, you don’t have to prove that your employer was at fault. Rather, the injury or illness is covered so long as it happened in the course and scope of your job.
Usually, your employer will purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage. However, your employer can self-insure if they satisfy certain stringent requirements.
Workers’ compensation benefits for injured grocery store workers
The workers’ compensation benefits to which you are entitled generally include the following:
- Cost of medical and rehabilitation treatments, including travel expenses
- Restoration of lost income—up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage
- Partial disability and total disability benefits
- Compensation for disfigurement
- Death benefits to your dependents
Steps to filing a workers’ compensation claim
Here are some steps injured workers should take to get workers’ compensation in these states:
- Seek medical attention. Go to a doctor or hospital as soon as possible after the injury. For purposes of medical treatments, you must use a physician chosen by the workers’ compensation administrator, unless it’s a medical emergency.
- Inform your employer as soon as possible. You must file an accident report within a short time after an accident (30 days in North Carolina; 90 days in South Carolina). The contents of this report as well as other required filings are important for preserving your rights and bolstering your chances of financial recovery. Failure to file a claim within these time frames could cause your workers’ compensation claim to be denied.
- Fill out a workers’ compensation claim form. In North Carolina, the form is known as Form 18, and in South Carolina, the form is known as Form 50. Submit the claim form to your employer, the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC), or the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC). Be aware that you must file your claim within 2 years after your injury, but it’s recommended that you file it as soon as possible.
The workers’ compensation laws vary by state and are complex. You must follow strict rules for filing your claim. Employers often try to minimize their liability and cost when handling workers’ compensation claims. Some can be unscrupulous and dishonest about it. Therefore, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer immediately after your injury.
What should I do if my claim is denied?
If your worker compensation claim is denied, you can challenge the decision by requesting a hearing with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. This can be done by completing and submitting Form 50 and checking the appropriate box (box 13b) stating that a hearing is being requested. The hearing process typically takes place within a time frame of 3-5 months.
If you’re not satisfied with the outcome of the hearing, you can further appeal the decision by taking it to the circuit court and, if needed, the South Carolina Supreme Court. It’s helpful to seek legal advice and hire an experienced workers’ attorney to help you with the case.
Workers in North Carolina follow a similar process by appealing a denied claim with the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
What if my employer fails to provide coverage?
The penalties for not having required workers’ compensation coverage can be quite extensive.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission can fine non-complying employers $1 per employee per day, but not less than $50 per day and not more than $100 per day. So if an employer doesn’t have workers’ comp in North Carolina for a year, they face a fine between $18,250 and $36,500 per year, even if there are no workplace injuries.
If your employer “willfully fails” to have coverage, they can be charged with a Class H felony. If your employer simply “neglects” to provide the coverage, they can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Furthermore, if you’re an injured employee of a non-insured employer, you are not preempted from suing your employer in a civil action. You could be awarded damages greater than what you would have received under workers’ compensation.
How can an attorney help with a workers’ compensation claim?
Filing for workers’ compensation can be overwhelming and confusing. An attorney can guide you through the legal system and help you get maximum compensation by doing the following:
- File your claim. An attorney can assist in determining if you’re eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim and if all requirements are met. They can also help ensure that your claim is filed correctly and within the appropriate time frame.
- Negotiate better benefits. An attorney knows how much your claim should be worth and can negotiate with your employer and their insurer to get you maximum benefits.
- Help with the appeals process. An attorney understands the appeals process. They can build a case and represent you in front of the Workers’ Compensation Commission if needed.
- Overcome challenges. An attorney can assist in overcoming any challenges that may arise during the claim process, such as disputes over the cause of the injury or disagreements over the amount of the benefits that should be awarded.
- Help with your recovery. An attorney can take on the legal responsibilities and paperwork of the claim process, allowing you to focus on your healing and recovery.
Contact a North and South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney
Filing a workers’ compensation claim in North Carolina or South Carolina often requires the guidance and skills of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. These cases can be complicated and drawn out, and most folks don’t have a full understanding of all the laws involved and the full rights to which they’re entitled.
At Wilder Pantazis Law Group, our experienced workers’ comp attorneys are committed to helping workers in North and South Carolina recover maximum compensation for their injuries. We offer free initial consultations, and we work on contingency—so you won’t pay a fee unless we win your case.