in the Court of Appeals 29 November 2016.
by defendant from order entered 31 March 2016 by Judge Reuben
F. Young in Wilson County, No. 13 CVS 1154 Superior Court.
Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, by Scott H. Dunnagan, for
unnamed workers' compensation defendants-appellees.
Office of Robert E. Ruegger, by Robert E. Ruegger, for
to the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, an
employer and its workers' compensation carrier are
entitled to a lien on an injured employee's recovery in
an action against a third-party tortfeasor. This lien extends
to all benefits paid to an employee for injuries caused by
the third party.
case, plaintiff Robert Murray was injured in an automobile
accident in the course of his employment with unnamed
defendant Evans MacTavish Agricraft, Inc. (Evans). Defendant
Joseph Moody caused the accident. Evans and its workers'
compensation carrier, unnamed defendant Cincinnati Insurance
Company (collectively with Evans, unnamed defendants) paid
medical and indemnity benefits to Murray, who later brought a
personal injury action against Moody. The action was tried to
a jury, which heard evidence concerning Murray's injuries
and the amount of workers' compensation benefits that he
received. The jury returned a verdict against Moody and
awarded Murray money damages.
trial judge entered a final judgment in favor of Murray that,
pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-10.2(e), reduced the
damage award by the amount of workers' compensation
benefits he received from unnamed defendants. Four days
later, the trial judge entered an amended judgment that did
not reduce the damage award but instead specifically granted
judgment in favor of Evans for the exact amount of
workers' compensation benefits that were paid to Murray,
and that granted judgment in favor of Murray for the balance
of the damage award.
a year later, Moody filed a motion in Wilson County Superior
Court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-10.2(j), which
allows a superior court judge, in his or her discretion, to
determine the amount of an employer's lien after an
injured employee has obtained a judgment against or settled a
claim with a third party. The superior court entered an order
denying Moody's motion, holding that the amount of
unnamed defendants' lien had been determined by the prior
court's amended judgment, and that the same was res
judicata and could not be relitigated. As a result, the
superior court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to
determine unnamed defendants' lien pursuant to subsection
now appeals the superior court's order, and he argues
that the court had jurisdiction to set the amount of the
lien. For the reasons that follow, we agree. Accordingly, we
reverse the superior court's order denying Moody's
motion and remand for further proceedings.
August 2010, Murray was driving on Highway 86 near
Hillsborough, North Carolina, when his truck, a company
vehicle owned by Evans, was struck in the rear by a car being
driven by Moody. The rear impact caused Murray's truck to
strike another vehicle, and Murray sustained a compensable
neck injury in the accident. Murray's neck injury
required extensive medical treatment, including physical and
defendants accepted Murray's workers' compensation
claim and paid a total of $7, 432.13 in benefits (comprised
of $5, 247.23 in medical benefits and $2, 184.90 in indemnity
payments). On 2 August 2013, Murray filed a personal injury
action against Moody in Wilson County Superior Court. The
complaint alleged that Moody negligently caused the August
2010 car accident and sought damages for Murray's pain
and suffering, medical expenses, and permanent injury. The
case proceeded to trial in March 2015, the Honorable Robert
H. Hobgood presiding.
trial, the jury heard evidence of the medical and indemnity
payments that Evans made to Murray due to the compensable
injury he sustained in the August 2010 automobile accident.
This evidence established that Murray had received a total of
$7, 432.13 in workers' compensation benefits. The jury
returned a verdict finding Moody to be negligent and awarding
Murray damages in the amount of $11, 000.00. Consequently, on
16 March 2015, Judge Hobgood entered a final judgment
consistent with the jury's verdict. Judge Hobgood then
reduced Murray's recovery by the amount of workers'
compensation benefits paid to Murray. The final judgment
reads as follows:
And the Court having reduced said verdict by $7, 423.13,
pursuant to the North Carolina Workers['] Compensation
Act and in accordance with N.C. G.S. § 97-10.2;
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that judgment
be had against the Defendant in the amount of $3, 576.87,
together with interest from the date of filing hereof and
costs taxed to the Defendant herein, including reasonable
attorney fees to Plaintiff's counsel pursuant to N.C.
G.S. § 6-21.1.
final judgment complied with N.C. Gen. Stat. §
97-10.2(e) (2015), which provides that
the amount of compensation and other benefits paid or payable
on account of such injury or death shall be admissible in
evidence in any proceeding against the third party. In the
event that said amount of compensation and other benefits is
introduced in such a proceeding the court shall instruct the
jury that said amount will be deducted by the court from any
amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff.
reasons not apparent in the record, Judge Hobgood entered an
amended final judgment (amended judgment) on 20 March 2015,
which expressly provided that "judgment be had against
the Defendant in the amount of $7, 423.13 in favor of Evans
Mactavish Agricraft to be distributed in accordance with N.C.
G.S. § 97-10.2(f)." Another portion of the amended
judgment granted "judgment . . . in favor of [Murray] in
the amount of $3, 576.87[, ]" the remainder of the
jury's damages award. As a result, while the sum of $7,
423.13 was simply deducted from Murray's recovery in the