In reviewing workers’ compensation legislation since 2010, when the conservative majority took over the government in North Carolina, in Part I it was noted that Deputy Commissioners (administrative law judges) will lose their job security, effective July 1, 2015, and that insurance policies can be cancelled easier to help out general contractors, but what else has been passed?
Previously, if a worker was totally disabled for life he got lifetime disability (recognizing that there is no cost of living adjustment in future years and there is a cap on the dollar amount of weekly benefits he could get). In 2011 the legislature limited benefits to 500 weeks (9.6 years). Brain injuries and other catastrophic injuries can continue beyond 500 weeks, but if the employee is still disabled and outside these exceptions, what happens? The insurance company is off the hook, and the taxpayer starts paying the price of the injury through social programs. The employer also gets a 100% credit on workers’ compensation for any Social Security retirement benefit the worker may receive.
An insurance company can now seek an “independent” medical exam, even though the claim has been denied. If an employee wants to be seen by a physician of her choice to review a permanent disability determination made by the insurance company’s selected physician, she can do so but the Commission is directed by legislation to “either disregard or give less weight to” any opinions that are not related to the impairment issue. The 2011 legislature required the Industrial Commission to review its administrative rules and after spending a year doing so, all but three of the rules were “disapproved” by the 2013 legislature. The process will now start over. The legislature has also made it more difficult for the employee to obtain documents from the employer by legislating that a subpoena for documents shall not issue less than 30 days prior to the hearing date. A process that is supposed to be “as summary and simple as reasonably may be” is now full of traps for unsophisticated employees (and their attorney, if they have one).