How to receive workers’ compensation as an injured truck driver
North Carolina’s trucking industry is thriving.
The North Carolina Trucking Association reported the following statistics in 2016:
- An estimated 218,540 were employed in trucking jobs in the state.
- Federal and state roadway taxes paid by North Carolina truckers totaled $1 billion.
- There were approximately 54,400 heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver jobs in North Carolina with an average annual salary of $41,300.
- 7 billion miles were driven by trucks on North Carolina public roads.
- Total trucking industry wages paid in North Carolina equaled $10.2 billion, with an average annual trucking industry salary of $46,599.
- Roadway taxes paid by typical North Carolina 5-axle trucks equaled $7,111 for state taxes and $8,906 for federal taxes.
One of the nation’s largest and oldest trucking companies is Old Dominion Freight Line founded in 1934 in Virginia. Today, they are headquartered in Thomasville, North Carolina. The company boasts roughly 22,000 employees, 47,000 trucks and 248 terminals or other facilities nationally.
Unfortunately, truck drivers are more prone to work-related injuries due to the hazardous nature of their job. If you’re a trucker who has been hurt on the job, contact the Wilder Pantazis Law Group to learn about your rights to workers’ compensation.
Common truck driver injuries and illnesses
Obtaining workers’ compensation as a truck driver has some nuances since their work isn’t stationary. Many injuries occur in traffic accidents on the road with other vehicles and other drivers, or in facilities other than those owned or operated by a trucker’s employer. That includes injuries incurred while loading and unloading freight.
Workers’ compensation is essentially no-fault insurance for employers to protect their employees, meaning the injured trucker is covered by their employer regardless of who or what caused their injury—so long as they were performing their job at the time of the injury.
However, in the case of truck drivers, third parties might also be responsible for such injuries (e.g. other drivers or operators). An injured truck driver can choose to sue such liable third parties for pain and suffering which is NOT a benefit provided by workers’ compensation.
North Carolina workers’ compensation for injured truckers
Most North Carolina trucking companies that employ 3 or more workers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which covers losses incurred on the job.
Injured workers are compensated for work-related medical and rehabilitation treatment, death and other benefits. A worker’s lost income is restored up to two-thirds of their average weekly or monthly wage.
Ambiguity in North Carolina laws regarding truck drivers
Typically, there is little to no ambiguity about who the employer of a worker is (and therefore, who is responsible for carrying workers’ compensation insurance for the employee). But in the case of truck drivers, the lines are blurred—particularly where their work is performed interstate and involving different parties in the transportation chain.
Take this example:
Suppose Edward is a licensed truck driver and resident of North Carolina.
Black Company is headquartered in North Carolina and owns a tractor-trailer truck (referred to simply as the “Truck,” from now on). Black Company recruits and employs Edward to drive their rig.
Red Company is an interstate trucking company based and operating terminals in Virginia.
Black Company and Red Company enter into a lease agreement whereby Red Company leases Black’s Truck for use in Red Company’s transportation business. Under the lease agreement, Black Company offers Edward’s services to drive the Truck. However, Red Company must approve of Edward and put him through a qualification process and ultimately accept Edward’s services. Black Company will pay Edward’s wages which, in this case, is a sum per mile driven.
Red Company qualifies and accepts Edward as the driver of the Truck. Red Company dictates what, where, when and how Edward performs his driving duties.
Edward is then injured in an accident at Red Company’s facility in Virginia.
Who is the employer? Who is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance covering Edward—Black Company or Red Company? Which state has jurisdiction over the workers’ compensation—Virginia or North Carolina?
North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS) §97-19 provides some clarity on this question. This law states that whether a driver is retained by a business as its full-time employee or works as an independent contractor, they meet the legal definition of a covered worker.
What if more than 1 “employer” meets this definition? What if those different employers are subject to different workers’ compensation laws? Which states have jurisdiction?
In 2003, the North Carolina legislature enacted NCGS § 97-19.1 to address the ambiguity. It provides that a driver’s covered worker status is “dependent upon the application of the common law test for determining employment status.” One essential factor is who controls the driver’s performance of his duties. Other considerations include who pays him.
It also provides that if the owner-operator of the truck (Black Company, in our example) controls the truck driver’s performance of his duties, then that owner-operator is responsible for providing workers’ compensation coverage.
However, it further provides that if the owner-operator is uninsured and is driving under a motor carrier’s ICC number, then that motor carrier is responsible for the workers’ compensation claim. It also doesn’t matter if the motor carrier has less than 3 employees.
In the example, Red Company would ultimately be responsible under Virginia law. The North Carolina workers’ compensation board would not have jurisdiction.
What if the owner-operator (Black Company) does carry workers’ compensation insurance?
In that case, it would appear that Edward should file a workers’ compensation claim in North Carolina.
North Carolina law provides in NCGS § 97-36:
“Where an accident happens while the employee is employed elsewhere than in this State and the accident is one which would entitle him… to compensation if it had happened in this State, then the employee… shall be entitled to compensation
(i) if the contract of employment was made in this State,
(ii) if the employer’s principal place of business is in this State, OR
(iii) if the employee’s principal place of employment is within this State”.
However, a driver cannot “double-dip.”
If the driver receives compensation or damages under the laws of any other state, they can’t receive total compensation exceeding that which is provided for in North Carolina law.
What should an injured driver do?
If you’ve been injured while employed as a truck driver, you should do 3 important things.
First, seek medical attention immediately to get treatment.
Second, get a written acknowledgment of the following:
- Your employer name
- Proof your employer carries workers’ compensation insurance as required by North Carolina law
- Immediate notice to your employer of the event of accident or illness
- Any claims with North Carolina’s workers’ compensation agency
Third, as soon as possible after an accident or illness, contact an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney at Wilder Pantazis Law Group to help fight through the maze of laws applicable to truck drivers.