EMP undertook the representation of an illiterate former sharecropper who suffered a back injury in a construction accident. Prior to our representation, the client had signed an agreement with the insurance company to be paid 45 weeks of benefits. When those benefits ran out and he was unable to return to work because of the severity of his injury, he asked for our help.
We attempted to set aside his settlement agreement based on the theories of mutual mistake, fraud, duress, and that the Industrial Commission had failed to act properly in its judicial capacity when it approved the settlement as being fair to the injured worker. We lost the first hearing at the Deputy Commissioner level. We lost the first appeal at the Full Commission level. We lost the second appeal at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. We won at the North Carolina Supreme Court in a landmark case.
The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the Industrial Commission must conduct a full investigation and a determination that an agreement to pay an injured worker benefits are fair and just and that an injured employee receive the disability benefits to which he is entitled. We were able to set aside the agreement paying our client only 45 weeks and replace it with lifetime benefits.
See Vernon v. Steven L. Mabe Builders, 336 N.C. 425, 444 S.E.2d 191 (1994).