Archives for March 2011

Will Workers’ Comp pay for Attendant Care in NC?

Attendant care issues come up from time to time in NC Workers’ Comp cases. When a spouse or other loved one is required to put their career on hold to take care of the injured worker, then you have attendant care issues in your case.

Insurance companies hate attendant care cases because, frankly, they are very expensive.  Even at $15-20/hour, a nurse that has to come to your home 10-15 hours a day to care for a loved one will amount to a lot of money.

For that reason, the insurance companies will fight these cases tooth and nail through the industrial commission, and possibly up to the Court of Appeals.

Typically, to receive these benefits from the Industrial Commission, you will have to find an expert to testify that attendant care is necessary, and the treating doctors will have to concur with those recommendations.  This sounds easy, but it is not.  It is expensive and can take a long time to see it’s way through the court system.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are putting your career on hold to care for a loved one that has been injured at work, you need to contact a Workers’ Comp Lawyer who is in a position to fight your case all the way to the end.

Workers Comp Reform: An Open Letter to NC Taxpayers

A Workers Comp reform bill is set to be filed in the NC General Assembly within the next several weeks.  This bill is bad for everyone but the insurance companies and self-insured businesses (think Wal-Mart) that a lobbying for it.  Don’t let this bill go through without speaking out against it!  Here is an open letter to taxpayers in North Carolina letting you know just what is at stake…

Dear fellow NC Taxpayers:

Starting this week, working families across the state need to call Republican House members to ask them NOT to support the workers’ compensation bill that Representative Dale Folwell is planning to file sometime in the next few weeks.  (The House deadline for the filing of public bills is March 24th, so we know the bill will be filed in the next two weeks).

The draft of the bill that is circulating is worse than originally thought.  It turns the current workers comp system on its head by giving the insurance company complete control over medical treatment.

First, they would get to choose the treating physician (and while the worker could change treating physicians once in the case, his “choice” would be limited to choosing from one of a group of three or more doctors chosen by the insurance company!).

Second, the treating physician would have to get prior approval from the insurance company for every single referral and recommendation.  The worker will be forbidden from putting on medical evidence (notes and any testimony) from a doctor who has not been authorized by the insurance company.  This includes your family doctor.

And, to make matters worse, the insurance company and defense attorney would be able to talk to your physicians without your prior knowledge or consent.

The current version of the bill would allow the insurance company to stop an injured worker’s disability benefits on the grounds that the injured worker failed to cooperate with medical treatment– even if he or she hasn’t previously been ordered to comply with medical treatment.

And that’s just the part having to do with medical treatment.  The current draft of the bill artificially caps benefits at 500 weeks (with only a few exceptions for very seriously injured workers).  And it completely does away with the requirement that a new job pay somewhere near what the pre-injury job paid.   If you have been injured and are not able to go back to your old job, your disability checks will be cut off if they can find you a job flipping burgers for minimum wage.

It doesn’t matter that the bill hasn’t been filed yet.  In fact, that’s a good thing.  Because once it’s filed, it’s probably too late.  We need to try to get some attention now while the bill is still being drafted.  Because maybe if your representative sees how unpopular this bill is, he will talk to Representative Folwell and ask him to introduce a less harmful bill.  If this bill becomes law it will:

  1. Take away your right to choose your own physician, and take away your right to ask the Industrial Commission to approve a treating physician of your own choice;
  2. Take away all of their medical privacy rights by allowing the insurance company (and the insurance company’s attorney) to talk to your doctors without your prior knowledge or consent;
  3. Let the insurance company cut off your compensation based on the claim that you aren’t cooperating with the doctors they selected;
  4. Artificially cut off your compensation after 500 weeks without regard to whether you have wage-earning capacity; and
  5. Require you to take a job that pays a lot less than you were making when you got hurt.

You can find the name and contact information for your local representative by clicking here.

Please write, email, and call them today.

 

Injured Workers settle case without attorney… Now What?

Injured workers settle their workers comp cases everyday without attorneys – this is nothing new.  But what most people don’t understand is that by signing a settlement agreement without consulting a workers compensation lawyer can cause you all sorts of problems.  Many times, as part of the settlement, your employer will ask you to sign a separate release of any and all claims that you currently have, or may have in the future, against your employer.  For injured workers without an attorney, this is dangerous territory.

There are a number of issues that could potentially come up in this separate release, and if you don’t have a workers compensation lawyer helping you to negotiate this agreement, you could run into several problems later on.  Here are the main issues that we frequently see:

  • The Settlement agreement does not comply with Industrial Commission rules and NC Statutes – making it unenforceable if you have second thoughts
  • You may be asked to give up other substantive law claims against your employer, such as claims of discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, etc.
  • You may be giving up your rights to separate employee benefits, such as ERISA or COBRA benefits.
  • Many injured workers are asked to “resign” their position in connection with signing the settlement contract – this could have a negative impact if you are in the process of applying for, or are already receiving unemployment benefits
  • Often times, we see provisions stating that the injured workers will not file any lawsuits or participate in any lawsuits against the employer.
  • Many releases contain a provision indicating that the injured workers will never again seek employment from the defendant employer.  This can be a problem if you live in a small community where there is one main employer for most of the population, and nowhere else to work

The bottom line is that if you have decided to settle your case without the advice of counsel, there are a number of pitfalls that you can run into when signing a settlement agreement and release.  Consider speaking with a workers compensation lawyer if you have questions about this.  You may contact us at (919) 460-5422 or use our online form.

 

Who do you help at The Hart Law Firm?

I often get asked about the types of clients I represent.  In a nutshell, we help people who have been injured at work.  However, injured employees can take on many different forms, and have many different jobs.  Here is a broad sampling of the kinds of people that I work with in my practice:

  • Employees at Textile plants
  • Injured Factory Workers
  • Flight Attendants exposed to Toxic Chemicals or injured at work
  • Walmart Employees
  • Truck Drivers
  • Construction Workers
  • Forklift Operators
  • Workers who have signed an agreement and are having second thoughts
  • Disabled workers who need help applying for social security disability
  • People in need of attendant care to help a disabled worker

In a nutshell, we work with workers who have been injured at work and need assistance.  Oftentimes, people who call us just don’t know what to do next and need help filing the proper paperwork so that they can obtain the benefits they deserve and are legally entitled to.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a workplace accident, you should strongly consider calling a Raleigh workers compensation lawyer to answer your questions. Raleigh Workers Compensation Lawyer James Hart is available at (919) 460-5422 for your free consultation.

 

Legislative Update: Status of Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina

Today I am attending a Workers’ Compensation Roundtable at the North Carolina Advocates of Justice in Raleigh, NC.  After lunch, Gina Cammarano provided us with a legislative update regarding the status of Workers’ Compensation reform at the General Assembly.

Although a bill has not yet been filed, it is clear that the insurance companies have the ears of our state representatives.  We initially thought that the bill would include a cap for lifetime benefits at 500 weeks, even in cases where an injured worker is completely and totally disabled.  We also thought that the bill would include language that gutted the statute with regards to the current requirement that an injured worker must have “substantially similar” employment to go back to work.

However, now we are aware that the effects of the bill may be far worse than originally expected…  Here are some of the things that we learned today.

  1. The proposed legislation will give the insurance companies complete control over your medical care
  2. You will be able to choose your doctor, but only from a list of doctors pre-approved by the insurance company
  3. In cases where you have the burden of proof at a hearing, you will be unable to introduce expert witness testimony from an independent doctor (this doesn’t seem to pass constitutional muster to me, but sometimes the state representative’s don’t understand that)
  4. You will have to make an election of benefits
  5. The insurance company representatives will be able to talk to your doctor without your presence or knowledge!!

This is all a ploy to transfer the burden of paying expenses for injured workers from the insurance companies that are contractually liable to pay these expenses to the taxpayers of the State of North Carolina.

Bottom Line? This bill is bad for injured workers, it is bad for doctors, it is bad for business, and it is bad for North Carolina and it’s taxpayers.  Don’t let the insurance companies reap a windfall at the expense of the taxpayers.  Contact your representative and tell them to stand up for North Carolinians and vote NO on Workers’ Compensation reform.