LUMBERTON - The Robeson County principal who was shot in the face on the way to work a year and a half ago is eligible for workers' compensation payments, the state Industrial Commission ruled this month.
The court decision came following a protracted legal dispute between former Fairmont Middle School Principal James Hunt and the school system where he had been employed.
An unknown motorist pulled up alongside Hunt and shot him in the face April 9, 2009, during his morning commute to the middle school. The 38-year-old has undergone more than a dozen surgical procedures since then to repair his shattered jaw and mouth. The scars from the close-range shotgun blast appear fresh on his face, even months later, and Hunt has only recently regained the ability to speak in a clear, audible voice.
Believing the shooting was planned in retaliation for his efforts to push gangs out of Fairmont Middle School, Hunt filed a claim for workers' compensation several weeks after the incident. But Robeson County schools and the state Department of Public Instruction denied the claim.
"I almost felt like I was betrayed," Hunt said Monday. "I fully thought that the school system I poured my life into - I gave them everything I had everyday - I thought they would be right by my side and help me through this thing. But I've had no support from them."
Lawyers for the school argued that, because the shooting occurred away from school property, Hunt's injuries were not related to his work with the district.
Phillip A. Baddour III, a deputy commissioner with the state Industrial Commission, ruled otherwise. In a decision published Dec. 10, Baddour ordered the school system to pay Hunt's normal wages from the time of the incident and to pay for any medical expenses related to the shooting. Hunt was earning about $60,000 a year at the time.
Hunt's injuries - both physical and mental - were work related for three reasons, Baddour wrote in the decision.
First, the school system paid Hunt a biannual allowance to help cover travel expenses related to his job, including commuting to and from the school. Therefore, Baddour said, Hunt was technically on school time when he was shot.
Furthermore, the former principal was talking to a staff member about official school business on a district-issued cell phone when the unknown assailant pulled up and fired a shotgun blast through Hunt's driver's side window, Baddour wrote in his ruling.
And finally, although the case remains unsolved, Baddour wrote, "The attack on (Hunt) arose out of his employment because the shooting was more likely than not related to his anti-gang activities as school principal."