When North Carolina workers are injured on the job and the blame falls on their employers, generally their only option to secure compensation for medical expenses and lost wages is the state’s workers’ compensation system. From severe injuries like head trauma or spinal cord damage to chronic conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, workers can obtain benefits that help them get through a period of disability.
Unfortunately, a bill recently introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly takes aim at NC workers’ comp benefits. House Bill 709 has one of those titles that masks its true purpose: “The Protect and Put NC Back to Work Act.” But to paraphrase a commentator from the North Carolina Justice Center, the bill should be called “An Act Pushed by Insurance Companies to Tilt a Delicately Balanced Legal System Against the Interests of Every Injured Worker.”
In most situations, a party is able to file a lawsuit against a negligent party to pursue justice and recover damages for the full extent of the harm caused. But society has set up workers’ compensation systems to provide income benefits, medical benefits and permanent disability benefits after a workplace injury, and employers are able to reduce liability risks by paying insurance premiums. Obviously, after such a bargain we must ensure that the system can support a person’s lifelong needs after a severe workplace injury.
The good news is that the proposed legislation would extend the duration of benefits for partial incapacity from 300 to 500 weeks. But the duration of compensation for total incapacity would be reduced from the lifetime of the injury victim to 500 weeks, unless the worker lost both eyes, hands, arms, feet or legs, or suffered a severe brain injury, severe burns or a spinal injury resulting in severe paralysis. The bill will also require injured workers to accept any offered job even if it pays far less than their job when injured.
To make things worse, the bill will take away almost all oversight by the Industrial Commission and give insurance adjusters unquestioned authority to decide disputes over which doctors can treat the injured worker and which doctors can give opinions about the extent of the injury. Lastly, if the bill passes, this drastic change in benefits will harshly affect some North Carolinians with injuries not defined in the new bill that still prevent them from returning to work.
Whether a work injury occurs on a construction site, in a factory or under any other circumstances, a series of complex details will control the worker’s ability to secure benefits. The value of detailed medical records that demonstrate the injury, solid proof of the employer’s negligence and a clear assessment of the worker’s future prospects for employment cannot be underestimated.
By working with a Board Certified Specialist in Workers’ Compensation Law, work injury victims can learn about strategies to make sure that their application for benefits is not denied. An experienced NC workers’ comp lawyer can also explain when an appeal may be necessary and help you understand whether your case might also involve third-party liability regarding another negligent party aside from your employer.