Public reaction to NC workers' comp bill leads to a better outcome for workers

Injured workers and others pack a room in the legislature during a hearing on the proposed bill.

This article originally appeared in the Jernigan Law Firm Summer 2011 newsletter. Without a major public outcry, the original workers’ compensation bill proposed to the North Carolina legislature would likely have passed. That would have been a disaster for workers in our state. We would like to sincerely thank everyone who participated. Let’s make sure that next time something like this happens, we are all equally passionate about protecting workers’ rights.

On June 13, 2011 the legislature passed a compromise bill concerning workers’ compensation. The original bill was a disaster for injured workers. Rights to privacy would have been abolished and benefits would have been cut off after 500 weeks (9.7 years) unless you had a brain injury or other catastrophic injury. The bill was an insurance company’s dream.

Legislators received more comments about this piece of legislation than any other bill introduced that session.

Many of you actively engaged in efforts to oppose this bill. People from all over the state came to committee hearings, called and emailed their individual legislators, and contacted the governor.  Had this public outcry not occured there is no doubt that the bill as proposed would have passed. We have heard that legislators received more comments about this piece of legislation than any other bill introduced that session.

Representative Folwell (Forsyth County) was the main sponsor of the bill and it was clear that he did not have a full appreciation of the harmful effects of the bill. There were marathon private negotiations that went on into the late hours of the night and eventually a compromise bill was created that both sides could tolerate, although many advocates for injured workers were not happy with the ultimate outcome.

Had Governor Beverly Perdue not threatened a potential veto from the outset it is doubtful that the majority party would have negotiated anything. What changes were made? Here are a few of them:

  1. Benefits can be denied if the employee made a willfull false representation concerning any preexisting condition and the employer relied on that representation and it is related to the injury.
  2. A change in medical treatment can be made if the employee shows by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the change is necessary. This is a higher legal standard than previously existed.
  3. The employer can contact your treating doctor and talk to the doctor after certain procedural steps have been taken, and this can be done outside your presence.
  4. The absolute right to an independent medical examination has been modified in that benefits can be im- mediately suspended if you object to going to a doctor selected by the employer.
  5. If still disabled after 500 weeks, benefits can be stopped. However, an employee can seek an extension if they have been out at least 425 weeks and they can show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that they are still disabled.
  6. The workers’ compensation insurance company will get a credit for any social security retirement benefits paid.
  7. The governor will still appoint Commissioners but the legislature has the right to confirm these appointments.
  8. Funeral expenses were increased from $3,500 to $10,000.
  9. If you have a wage loss claim, benefits were extended to 500 weeks, as opposed to 300.

For more detailed information on these changes you can go to the North Carolina General Assembly webpage and look at House Bill 709. The bill was signed by the Governor on June 24, 2011, effective that day. Most provisions will not effect pending claims. If you sustain an injury after June 24, 2011 the new legislation will apply to that claim.

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