Archives for February 2011

Flash Fire at Sherwin Williams Plant leads to burned worker

A Flash Fire at the Sherwin Williams Plant in Greensboro has burned a worker, reports CBS News.  The fire happened Thursday morning and burned the worker on his arms and face.

This unfortunate incident was the result of chemical vapors igniting, reports fire investigators, and is yet another reason that workers must be vigilant in maintaining a safe work environment.

The Raleigh Workers Compensation Lawyers at The Hart Law Firm understand how devastating a tragic event such as this can be.  Chemical burns are a serious danger of working in any factory.  When you or a loved one is involved in an accident like this, it is important for you to consult legal counsel about your rights.

The actions you take in the initial hours and days after a workplace accident can have a significant impact on your case and how it gets resolved.  The insurance companies will do anything they can to deny your claim or limit the workers compensation benefits you are legally entitled to – don’t let that happen to you.

One of the first things that this worker or his family must do is inform his employer (Sherwin Williams), in writing, of the accident.  Seems like a pretty simple thing to do, right?  But six months or a year from now, nobody will remember how severe this accident was, and if he failed to write this very important letter, it could be used against him in court.  In a severe workplace accident, such as a flash fire, this very simple step is often overlooked.

After getting appropriate medical treatment, the next thing I would advise this worker to do is contact an attorney to learn more about his rights.  A workers compensation lawyer can help him to navigate this treacherous and complicated claim – and make sure nothing is overlooked.

If you or a loved one was injured in a Flash Fire or Other Workplace Accident, contact a Workers Compensation Lawyer today.

Call the Raleigh Workers Compensation Lawyers at The Hart Law Firm to schedule a free consultation at (919) 460-5422.  Alternatively, you may complete our online contact form and a representative of our office will call you back within 24 hours.

Injured at Work? Have you applied for Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you are injured at work in North Carolina, you should give some serious thought to applying for Social Security Disability Benefits, in addition to filing for Workers’ Compensation Benefits.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Filing for Social Security Disability will not adversely affect your Workers’ Compensation.  In some cases, you may be entitled to receive more benefits from Social Security than you would from workers comp.
  2. If your workers comp benefits are stopped or delayed, then you will have your social security disability checks to fall back on while your workers compensation attorney works to restart your checks (which can take 3-4 months, or longer).

The bottom line is that if you are injured at work, you may need to rely on several different sources of income to sustain you until you are able to work again.  For many people, workers’ comp is the main source of income, but Social Security Disability is another income stream, along with long term disability insurance (which you may have purchased through your employer, or privately).

One of the frequent questions I get from clients is:

Will I qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be age 18 or older;
  • You must have worked and paid social security taxes long enough to qualify;
  • You must have a medical condition that has prevented you from working or is expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months or end in death, and;
  • You must reside in the United States or one of its territories/commonwealths.

At first glance, these seem like easy and straightforward criteria.  However, there are a number of tricks and hurdles that can trip you up along the way.  Most denied claims are due to a technicality that could be prevented.  It is not necessary for you to hire an attorney to assist you in applying for benefits, but talking to an attorney before you apply can go a long way towards getting your claim approved.

It can take a long time and several applications before you are approved for Social Security Disability – if you feel that you may be out of work for an extended time, call our office to inquire about applying for benefits today.

How Workers’ Comp lawyers get paid in North Carolina

The issue of how Workers’ Comp Lawyers get paid in North Carolina is a touchy one. Today I had a discussion with a new client about fees, and how our office gets paid.  It was a timely (and often asked) question, especially since one of the topics discussed at Tuesday’s NCAJ workers compensation section meeting was the reasonableness of Workers’ Comp fees.

It seems that the perception of some Union workers in North Carolina, as well as perhaps the public generally, is that we as Workers’ Comp lawyers earn too much money.  As with anything in life, this is a subtle distortion of the facts – brought on by unscrupulous attorneys.

By unscrupulous, I mean those workers comp attorneys that are more interested in making a fast buck than properly representing their clients.  Here are some of the tactics that these attorneys will engage in:

  • They will sign up a client who is already receiving benefit checks, and immediately ask the industrial commission for their fee… (without doing any work on the case).
  • They will settle cases quickly, for far less than they are worth, just so that they can get paid and move on to the next case.

If you believe that your attorney has engaged in any of the tactics referenced above, please all Raleigh Workers Compensation Lawyer James Hart today to schedule a free case review at (919) 460-5422.

The vast majority of the Workers Comp Attorneys that I talk to do not engage in these practices.  The Comp attorneys that I know and respect take on a lot of clients with no hope of ever receiving a fee at all.  Will some of those cases turn into a large fee at the end?  Perhaps, but it is those cases that allow us to stay in business so that we can help the vast majority of our clients who will never pay us a fee.

NC Workers Comp Reform News – www.ProtectNCworkers.com goes live February 17th

For those of you that have been following the news in the NC Workers Comp Reform world recently – you know that injured workers throughout North Carolina are in a fight for their lives… literally.

The insurance companies and big business lobbies want to limit the benefits paid to injured NC workers to 9 and a half years – even if that worker is totally and completely disabled – which means that they can never go back to work.  This is a fiscally irresponsible bill that will do nothing but shift the cost to care for these injured workers from the insurance companies to the taxpayers of our great state.

I have been and will continue to be posting quite regularly on this NC Workers Comp reform on this website, but there is a new website that goes live tomorrow – www.protectNCworkers.com, that will have lots of news and information about the upcoming legislation.

Also, if you have not already done so, it is important that you contact your legislator and tell them to vote NO on this legislation and stick up for the rights of all North Carolinians!

Of course, if you need more information on this bill, please feel free to contact my office at (919) 460-5422.

Workers Compensation Section Meeting at the NCAJ

This afternoon I attended the Workers’ Compensation Section Meeting at the Raleigh office of the North Carolina Advocates of Justice (NCAJ) – an organization of which I am a proud member.  Here is a sampling of some of the things that were discussed:

  • NCAJ president Phil Baddour and CEO Dick Taylor gave an update on the state of Workers’ Compensation Reform at the statehouse.  The sense is that the legislature is going to take up Medical Malpractice reform first, and a Workers’ Compensation reform bill will follow within the next several weeks.
  • Todd Barlow, a member of the NCAJ Political Affairs Counsel gave some background into how the reform bill will be introduced – via what committees, and how the legislation is likely to proceed.
  • Dan Deuterman of the Deuterman Law Group laid out a strategy for how we will be educating the public on Workers’ Compensation Reform and how it will impact workers across the state… not in a good way.
  • Mike Okun from Patterson & Harkavy discussed the Union’s perspective on all of this talk about Workers Compensation reform and how we, as Comp lawyers, can keep the Union support.

Following the Section Meeting was an open house for members of the legislature.

Here are some things that the public must understand about what the legislature is trying to do to the Workers Compensation system in North Carolina:

  1. The legislature wants to move quickly and without much fanfare to destroy the laws that are currently in place to protect injured workers;
  2. The proposed legislation would limit compensation for injured workers to 9.5 years – less than a decade – even for workers that are young and completely disabled;
  3. This bill is bad for both workers and taxpayers, because after their compensation runs out, the taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill that rightfully belongs to the insurance company;
  4. This bill is nothing but another insurance company bailout. The only winners are big business and insurance companies – small businesses and workers will suffer.

Call your representative TODAY and tell them to vote NO on cutting benefits to workers.

Labor Legislative Conference held last week in Raleigh

Last week union workers throughout the state of North Carolina convened for the 2011 Labor Legislative Conference in Raleigh. At that meeting, the unions called for a “Working People’s Agenda” that included creating more jobs and protecting workers throughout the state. For more on the program, read this article entitled “Workers Unite to Promote a Working People’s Agenda”.

Want to guess what one of the hot topics was? If you guessed Workers’ Compensation benefits – you guessed right. The insurance and business lobbies want legislators to cut benefits to injured workers and eliminate the requirement that workers go back to “suitable employment” after they are injured. In other words, a teacher could be forced to take a job as a Wal-Mart greeter if it was available to them, regardless of the fact that this is a completely different position than what they are qualified to do.

Workers’ Compensation benefits are extremely important to workers who are injured at work or who become sick because of their working conditions.  The employer or the insurance company that is hired by the employer is responsible for paying out timely and quick benefits to these workers in exchange for the worker giving up the right to sue the employer.  (Except for in very, very limited exceptions – see the Woodson Case)

Not only is the Comp system in North Carolina important for the lives of injured workers, but it is also important for the taxpayers.  If the insurance companies are able to convince the legislators to cut benefits to workers – not only will that take money out of the North Carolina economy, but it will also cost the taxpayers billions of dollars as these workers get shifted onto public assistance such as medicare and food stamps.

Right now we have an efficient and fair workers comp system in North Carolina – adequate benefits are given to workers at a modest cost to employers.  For those that would claim that the Comp system is hurting the business climate in North Carolina, consider that in 2010, Site magazine rated North Carolina’s business climate as the very best in the nation.

In my humble opinion, if it ain’t broke – there is no need to fix it.  We don’t need Workers’ Compensation Reform in North Carolina.  Tell the legislators to ignore the call of insurance company lobbyists and focus on what IS important – bringing more jobs to North Carolina.

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Fraud – It’s not all Employees

In North Carolina, Workers’ Compensation Fraud is not just about employees filing fraudulent claims.  An even bigger problem is Employers that are misclassifying employees as 1099 workers instead of payroll workers.

Thanks to Leonard Jernigan for sharing the following video during his presentation on Workers’ Compensation fraud during the second day of the Workers Compensation Annual Meeting in Greensboro, NC.

I hear all the time how frustrated the general public is with workers that file fraudulant claims, and get benefits for free when they should actually be back at work.  But what the general public doesn’t fully understand is that employers are every bit as responsible for workers compensation fraud in North Carolina, and ultimately cost the taxpayers and workers much more with their fraudulent activities.

Here are some startling statistics that were provided by Mr. Jernigan this morning: In Texas in 2005, employee fraud cost $446,826, while EMPLOYER fraud cost $12 MILLION dollars, and in New York, a Fiscal Policy Report issued on January 25, 2007 concluded that 25-30% of all companies in New York were not purchasing workers’ compensation insurance.

Another type of Workers Compensation Fraud that is referenced in the video above is 1099 misclassification, and this is a problem countrywide.  What happens in these situations is workers are classified as 1099 independent contractors instead of payroll employees.

By doing this, the employer obtains a competitive advantage over other employers that are playing by the rules.  Here are some of the reasons:

  • By classifying their employee’s as 1099 independent contractors, they alleviate themselves of the legal need to purchase workers compensation insurance for their workers;
  • They are not required to pay unemployment premiums or payroll taxes such as social security and medicare;
  • If a worker gets injured, medicaid, medicare and social security foot the bill, instead of the employer;
  • They are not required to provide other benefits to the workers, such as health insurance, retirement plans, etc.

Of course, this is a huge problem across the country.  But you can assist in fighting this problem.  If you are a worker in North Carolina, and you believe your employer is engaging in fraudulent practices, or you are being misclassified as a 1099 independent contractor rather than an employee, then you can contact the NC Department of Insurance at (919) 807-6840 or the North Carolina Industrial Commission at (888) 891-4895.

For more information on Employer Insurance Fraud visit The Jernigan Law Firm – Fraud Reports.

NC Workers’ Comp CLE – Pain, Pain Go Away

Today and tomorrow I will be attending an Intermediate Level Workers’ Comp CLE in Greensboro, North Carolina called “Pain, Pain Go Away“, sponsored by the North Carolina Bar Association.

As the title suggests, the program will focus on different forms of pain management treatments (the speakers thus far seem to suggest that epidural steroid injections are overused and expensive – they would like to see a more holistic approach to pain management), as well as proposed changes and revisions to the Industrial Commission Rules, 2010 case reviews, and an update on insurance fraud.

Exciting stuff, huh?  I bet you wish you could join me.  Seriously though, even thought half the crowd is insurance defense lawyers, this is a great opportunity for networking and meeting some of the big names in Workers’ Comp throughout the state of North Carolina.  Four of the Commissioners from the Industrial Commission are here (they sit in 3 person panels and hear appeals from the decisions of the Deputy Commissioners), and I’m sure some Deputy Commissioners are in attendance as well.

If I hear something interesting and worth writing about, I’ll make sure to post an update later this evening.

Fighting Workers’ Comp reform in North Carolina

You are going to be seeing a lot of posts from me in the coming weeks and months with updates on what is going on in the Statehouse in Raleigh.  The People of North Carolina are in for a fight – and this time it doesn’t only affect injured workers who are depending on their weekly Workers’ Comp benefit checks.  This time it affects us all – the taxpayers.

The insurance companies want to cap the benefits they pay out for individuals that are totally and completely disabled to 500 weeks.  So, you may ask, what happens after those 500 weeks are gone?  The taxpayers will foot the bill, plain and simple.

In addition, the insurance lobby is putting pressure on your representatives to change the existing law to force injured workers to take any type of job they can find if they can not return to what is currently called “suitable employment.”

If these changes are allowed to go through, not only could workers be forced to take jobs that pay them less wages, provide fewer benefits and give them little room to advance (consider a school teacher forced to work as a Wal-Mart greeter), but the resulting loss of income from that job change would be capped at 500 weeks and then the benefits would stop – even if the injured and disabled worker was still physically unable to return to the work they were doing before they were injured.

Check out these blog posts (here and here) for more information.  I have previously blogged about this here.

Also, make sure you contact your state representative and tell them to stand up to the insurance lobby and reject the proposed reforms.

Here is another press release on this issue.

NC Workers’ Compensation Checklist

In looking up some information on Union’s in North Carolina, today I came across a Workers’ Compensation Checklist for you to review and print if you have been injured in a workplace accident.  Some of the important things for you to do include:

  • Prepare a detailed statement of everything you can remember about the accident, including how you were injured and who was there.  Discuss how serious your injuries are and how they affect your day-to-day life.
  • If appropriate, take pictures of your injuries, and describe where you were hurt and what, if anything caused the injury.
  • Keep a copy of the letter you sent to your employer letting them know you were injured. (Review this post if you have questions about this).
  • Keep a list of every doctor you have been to see, including dates of treatment, contact information, and bills that you received from the doctor.
  • Maintain all correspondence from/to your employer and/or your insurance adjuster regarding your claim.
  • Keep track of the miles you drove both two and from medical treatment, receipts for parking and tolls, and other expenses related to the same.
  • Maintain receipts for any other expenses you incur as a result of your injury.
  • Keep copies of all of your workers’ compensation checks and/or pay stubs if you return to work.

Here is a printable and more complete checklist for you to use.

Workers Compensation Benefits – An Overview

You can also find a copy of this article on Workers Comp Benefits under the “Start Here” heading on the navigation bar…  I thought I would post it here for those that subscribe to my RSS feed.  (If you are not already, you probably should!)

Workers Comp Benefits take several forms in North Carolina.  It is important that you understand the different types of benefits that you might be entitled to, so that you can be informed when it comes time to settle your case.

The major Workers Comp benefits that you are entitled to if you are injured in an accident at work in North Carolina include having the insurance company pay your medical expenses (this is often the biggest benefit), as well as receiving a weekly check that amounts to 2/3 of your “Average Weekly Wage”.  We’ll take these one at a time:

Medical Expenses as a Workers Comp benefit:  When you are injured in a workplace accident, the insurance company is required by law to pay for your medical expenses that are associated with that accident.  These may be expenses for various treatments that are designed to cure the injury or relieve you from pain, or they could be for prescription medications.  You should be aware that there is no deductible, no co-pay, and no requirement that you miss work to receive these medical benefits.

As you will see in other areas of this website, the insurance company, if they accept your claim, has the right to direct your medical care.  This means that they can pick your doctors.  However, if you feel that the doctor is biased, or that they are releasing you to do more work than you feel you can physically do, then you have the right to a second opinion with a doctor of your choice – which the insurance company or employer must pay for.  If the insurance company balks at this, which they frequently do, then you have the right to request a hearing before the NC Industrial Commission to resolve these issues.  You should also know that if you go two years without receiving medical treatment that is paid for by the workers comp insurance carrier than you run the risk of losing your medical benefits forever.

Weekly Disability Payments:  The second type of Workers Comp benefits you could receive after you have been injured in an accident at work involve weekly disability checks.  These checks will traditionally pay out at 2/3 of you Average Weekly Wage.  There are two types of checks you could receive:

  • Temporary Partial or Total Disability Checks.  When your doctors orders you to stay out of work for longer than 7 days, then you are entitled to receive Temporary Total Disability checks at 2/3’s of your Average Weekly Wage amount.  After you have been out for three weeks, then by law you are entitled to the first week as well.  Temporary Partial Disability only comes up where you are able to work, but you have to cut your hours and are unable to earn the same amount as before the accident, in which case you are entitled to 2/3’s of the difference between your average weekly wage and what you are earning now – but only for 300 weeks.
  • Permanent Partial or Total Disability Checks.  Once you have been declared permanently partially disabled by your doctor, they will assign a disability rating.  Your benefits will then be determined using a formula which factors in the average weekly wage, the part of the body that was injured, and the disability rating assigned by the doctor.  As of right now, injured workers are entitled to lifetime benefits if they are permanently and totally disabled.  (The insurance companies want to limit this – click here for more information about what you can do to stop them).

There is one other Workers Comp benefit that you should be aware of – the “Clincher” Agreement.  In some cases, workers are offered a lump sum amount to settle their case.  If you agree to a clincher, do not do sue without carefully weighing all of your options with your attorney.  When you sign a clincher, you are frequently agreeing to not pursue additional benefits or reopen the case should your condition worsen.  This may also mean giving up all of your medical benefits – which is often a huge benefit if you are unable to obtain group health coverage after your case is completed.