The “Substantial Uncertainty” of the Viability of Woodson Claims After Valenzuela v. Pallet Express, Inc.

BY Leah D'Aurora Richardson

Two decades ago, the Supreme Court of North Carolina, compelled to discourage egregious employer misconduct, carved out an important exception to the exclusive remedy provision of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”) which generally limits an employee’s recovery for work-related injuries and precludes common law remedies. A claim based on this exception, commonly called a Woodson claim, is a cause of action for employees’ injuries resulting from an employer’s intentional misconduct that is “substantially certain to cause serious injury or death.” The creation of this exception was significant for two reasons. The newly minted Woodson claim allowed injured employees to pursue tort remedies outside of the Act for employer misconduct that was not a true intentional tort, which already fell outside the exclusive remedy provision, and it signaled to offending employers that they would no longer be allowed to hide behind the nearly impenetrable shield of the Act, and thus served as a deterrent. Yet, almost immediately after creating this new substantive right, North Carolina appellate courts began chipping away at the availability of the cause of action by disposing of most claims on summary judgment in favor of the employer, a practice that has continued to the present.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 90 N.C. L. Rev.884 (2012)