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Injuries from wreck triggered by yellow jacket stings compensable

By SYLVIA ADCOCK, Staff Writer

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First the yellow jackets attacked. But that wasn’t the worst part.

A city of Raleigh employee who was stung 30 times while in the course of his work duties became lightheaded after the stings, and when he left work, he drove off the road and into a tree.

The employee didn’t remember the accident, and a police investigation found no skid marks and said he had not even applied the brakes before impact.

So is the injury from the car crash – a fractured ankle – compensable? The N.C. Industrial Commission said yes, and in an unpublished opinion filed Jan. 4, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

The appeals court held that the evidence showed a proximate causal relation between the automobile accident and the yellow jacket stings, which had most likely caused the plaintiff to pass out at the wheel.

 “Plaintiff’s vehicular injury occurred approximately five hours after the yellow jacket stings; plaintiff complained of feeling lightheaded after being stung; plaintiff could not work the rest of the day; and two physicians testified the plaintiff likely passed out,” Judge Robert C. Hunter wrote.

The case is Powell v. City of Raleigh (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-16-0044, 15 pp.).

On June 28, 2007, the plaintiff, who worked for the city’s public utilities department, was using a weed-eater around a manhole cover when he was stung by at least 30 yellow jackets. He sought attention with the defendant-employer’s occupational health nurse, who noted the sting marks in her report.

The plaintiff reported being “lightheaded and dizzy, kind of out of it.” The nurse told him to go home if the lightheadedness continued.

He told his supervisor after lunch he was not feeling well. He remained at the shop for the afternoon and then left for the day. While driving home, the plaintiff drove off the road and hit a tree. The resulting fractured ankle kept him out of work for about two months.

Charles Mast, the plaintiff’s attorney, said one thing that helped his case was that expert witnesses for both sides, while disagreeing on exactly what might have caused the crash, both had theories that related to a reaction to the stings.

The plaintiff’s expert witness, a physician who had examined the plaintiff and reviewed records, said he believed that a toxic reaction to the stings caused him to lose mental status and hit the tree.

 The physician who testified for the defense said that a systemic response to between 15 and 30 stings would be rare, but acknowledged it was possible. He also said believed the plaintiff suffered a vasovagal syncope episode, which can be brought on by stress or pain.

“Dr. Ross’ testimony supports plaintiff’s claims,” Judge Hunter wrote, referring to the defense’s witness.

“Their expert had a kind of alternative theory which also established causation,” Mast said. He said that theory became apparent when he asked the defense witness during a deposition for his opinion of what happened.

For the most part, Mast said, he found the court’s ruling to be a restatement of its practice of leaving a commission ruling undisturbed where there is adequate evidence to support it.


Opinion Brief


Case name: Powell v. City of Raleigh

Court: N.C. Court of Appeals – Unpublished

Judges: Judge Robert C. Hunter; Judge Ann Marie Calabria and Judge Martha Geer, concurring

Date: Jan. 4, 2011

Plaintiff’s attorney: Charles Mast of Mast, Mast, Johnson & Trimyer (Smithfield)

Defendant’s attorney: Tamara Nance and Natalia Isenberg, both of Teague, Campbell, Dennis & Gorham (Raleigh)

Issue: Are injuries sustained when plaintiff ran his car off the road and into a tree causally related to 30 yellow jackets stings plaintiff earlier received while in the course of his duties?

Holding: Yes, the injuries from the accident are causally related to the stings, which likely caused plaintiff to pass out at the wheel, and are therefore compensable.

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