Archives for March 2012

Talking on your Cell Phone while driving forbidden in Chapel Hill

Those of you who frequently talk on your cell phone while driving take note – this practice will become illegal in Chapel Hill on June 1. Yesterday, Chapel Hill, North Carolina became the first town in the nation to outlaw talking on a cell phone, whether hands free or not, while driving.

Of course, this may not be the last word on the issue.  State Attorney General Jess Mekeel has said that “the town may not regulate activity in a field where the state intends to provide ‘a complete and integrated regulatory scheme.’ ” The state currently bans the use of cell phones by drivers under the age of 18, school bus drivers, and anyone reading email or texting while driving.

According to Mekeel, “An ordinance by the Town of Chapel Hill regulating motorists’ use of cell phones is preempted by State law, and therefore, unenforceable.”

However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) supports the ordinance in Chapel Hill, and there is currently a ban on hand-held cell phones in Evanston, Illinois, home of Northwestern University.  Since enacting the ordinance two years ago, accidents there have decreased 17.6%, according to Chapel Hill Town Council member Penny Rich.

I am of the opinion that is a prudent and smart move by the town. People will have to get used to the change, but the ban itself is likely to decrease the number of accidents and hopefully save lives. I believe it is just a matter of time before this becomes the norm across the state. I previously wrote about my opinions on this here.

Just received a Form 24 – What now?

In North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system, many injured workers think that they can handle their case on their own, especially if the case is accepted by the insurance company (meaning that you are receiving weekly benefit checks and medical treatment from the insurance company). Unfortunately, many of these same workers don’t realize the mistake they have made (by not hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer) until their benefits have already been cut off.

One of the biggest threats to an injured workers’ benefits in North Carolina is called the Form 24. Under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation system, once an insurance company accepts a claim, there are only two ways that they can stop paying benefits to the injured worker: 1) if the worker returns to work, or 2) if the Industrial Commission approves their Form 24 application.

What most workers don’t realize is that the fight to defend against a Form 24 begins long before the insurance company submits this application to the Commission. And unfortunately, once an unrepresented worker receives the Form 24, it is often already too late to do anything about it.

In order to be successful on a Form 24 application, the insurance company must have a legal basis for asking the commission to turn off benefits. Here are some examples of legally sufficient reasons that the industrial commission may grant a Form 24:

  • The injured worker has failed to comply with their medical treatment (a workers’ compensation lawyer will help you stay on track)
  • The injured worker has refused an offer of suitable employment (only a workers’ comp attorney can advise you on whether the job offered is “suitable”)
  • A doctor (usually one hired by the insurance company) has returned the worker to full duty work (a lawyer can help you request a second opinion from another doctor)

Getting an attorney involved early in the process, before the worker receives a Form 24, can greatly increase your chances of defeating this insurance company tactic, and more importantly, keep your benefits from being turned off.

Workers’ Comp Mileage Rates in NC

Did you know that if you have to travel farther than 20 miles roundtrip to attend an appointment for medical treatment, you are entitled to reimbursement from the workers’ comp insurance carrier?

Per the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the IRS mileage rate for January 1, 2011 through June 30, 2011 is $0.51 per mile. On July 1, 2011, the IRS mileage rate was increased to $0.555 per mile and applies to travel for medical treatment on or after July 1, 2011.

Click here to review a copy of the Form 25T that is used to submit your mileage for reimbursement. If you are a client of The Hart Law Firm, please email or fax the completed form to our office and we will submit the form for reimbursement on your behalf.

Workers’ Comp and the Obesity problem

I was reading an article this morning on how the Obesity problem in America “weighs” on the Workers’ Comp system. It is not surprising that obese clients will take longer to heal after a work related injury, and there may be an increase in the cost to treat this worker in the workers’ comp system as a result.

What was surprising to me is how anti-worker the author is. They seem to imply that the problem lies entirely with the overweight workers, and that the employer should be shielded from liability, which is distressing to me. The Workers’ Comp system was created to provide an efficient, no-fault system for workers’ to be compensated for their work-related injuries, receive the medical care they require, and get back to work as soon as possible.

The author uses an extreme example (a 300 pound worker who required 7 months to recover from a “sprained” ankle) to illustrate her point. The author says nothing of how severe the ankle injury was, or what type of work the injured worker was required to perform. The studies cited by the author were no doubt commissioned by pro-business, pro-insurance groups to illustrate their points.

This is concerning to me at a time when obesity is such a prevailing problem in America. Businesses who employ workers, and presumably provide them with health insurance benefits, are in the best position to address this issue through wellness programs, incentives to lose weight and educational programs.

In addition, the statistics cited surprise me given the fact that so many of my clients are injured performing difficult, manually demanding jobs. Our clients are, for the most part, blue-collar workers who work extremely hard and deserve to be taken care of by their employers and/or the insurance company when they are injured. It goes without saying that many of these workers get a lot more exercise, and are in much better condition as a result of their work than your typical office worker who sits at a desk all day.

Before we start blaming obese workers (who are few and far between) for the increasing cost of workers comp insurance (another statistic that could be debated), may the insurance companies and employers should take a look in the mirror to determine whether they are helping or contributing to the problem.

Cell phones banned while driving in Chapel Hill?

I previously blogged about the perils of texting while driving, and it appears that there is now a movement for a total ban on cell phone use while driving that is receiving increased public support in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Apparently, the Chapel Hill town council is set to vote on this measure, which would be the first of its kind in the state, on March 12th.  The bill would also make texting while driving illegal when a car is in motion.

This proposal comes on the heels of a recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommending a full ban on the use of cell phones while driving in December 2011.

We have all seen drivers that are distracted by the use of their phone.  This is not a popular position, but it is one that is necessary to protect and save the lives of our loved ones and children. I applaud the Chapel Hill town council for taking such a step on such a controversial issue.




FAQ – What if my workers’ comp check is late?

One of the most frequent calls I receive from my workers’ comp clients is that their workers’ compensation check is late. Unfortunately, (and I don’t believe that this is the client’s fault), the calls I receive are from the same client’s again and again. This means that the same insurance companies are routinely late in processing their weekly workers’ comp checks.

Is this surprising? Not at all. If you think about it, the insurance companies job is to make being on workers’ comp as difficult as possible. That way, when the time comes to try and settle your case, you will be thinking in the back of your head about all those late checks and how you just want that to be over. When your weekly workers’ comp check is late, it puts you and your family in financial jeopardy. I understand that the injured worker depends on these checks to pay their bills and feed their family. A check that is a week late can have devastating effects on an injured worker and their family.

Unfortunately, the insurance companies know this, so they will do everything they can to push the limits of the law.

What can you do if your check is late? If it is a routine occurrence, I recommend that you hire a lawyer. If nothing else, you would then have someone you can call when the check doesn’t come in and they can bother the insurance company until you receive your check. If the check is more than 14 days late, then you are entitled to a 10% penalty on the amount that is late by more than 14 days.

So, in a nutshell, here is what you do if your check is late:

  1. Determine whether there was a holiday that would have delayed the mail.  This frequently is a cause of late checks.
  2. Look to the history of your payments. Is this an isolated incident, or a more frequent problem. You may want to keep a log of your checks and the dates you received them since your case was opened.
  3. If this is an ongoing problem, or if checks are longer than 14 days late, you need to contact a workers’ compensation lawyer.
  4. Once you have a lawyer, contact them. My office will call the adjuster once or twice a day until the client receives their check or we receive verification that the checks have been paid on time.