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Middle-school principal shot on way to work due workers comp: N.C. court

Middle-school principal shot on way to work due workers comp: N.C. court

RALEIGH, N.C.—A middle-school principal who was shot while talking on an employer-provided cellphone while commuting to work is entitled to workers compensation benefits, North Carolina's Court of Appeals has ruled.

Fairmont Middle School Principal James A. Hunt was on his way to work in 2009 while talking on the cellphone to a colleague about various school issues when a shotgun blast struck him in the face and hand.

An unknown assailant riding in a truck that had pulled alongside the principal's car fired the blast, according to the Tuesday ruling in James A. Hunt vs. North Carolina Industrial Commission.

As a result of the shooting, Mr. Hunt underwent multiple procedures and plastic surgeries for injuries to his face, mouth, teeth and right hand.

Court records also show that an employment contract Mr. Hunt entered into with the Public Schools of Robeson County in North Carolina entitled him to receive a $594 travel allowance twice annually.

He testified that he believed the shooting stemmed from his role as a school administrator because he was involved in anti-gang activities. He also was suspicious of staff members who he had disciplined and testified he received threats from parents of students.

Police were not able to determine who shot him and Mr. Hunt filed a workers comp claim in 2009.

But his employer denied the claim, stating that Mr. Hunt's injury did not result from an accident and “did not arise out of and in the course and scope of employment.”

On appeal, a hearing officer concluded in 2010 that Mr. Hunt's injuries were work-related. Then in 2011 the North Carolina Industrial Commission agreed, finding that his injuries resulted from an accident that occurred while he was working.

The commission awarded Mr. Hunt temporary total disability compensation benefits.

The employer, along with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and third-party administrator Corvel Corp., appealed again to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

But the court upheld the commission's ruling.

The court said that because Mr. Hunt's employer required school principals to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that the conversation between him and his colleague was an allowable use of the cellphone to conduct school business, he suffered “a compensable injury by accident while in the course…of employment.”

The appeals court also found that a “coming and going” rule that normally bars compensation for accidents while commuting did not apply because Mr. Hunt used the travel allowance to cover expenses for commuting to and from school.