Enforcing the Workers’ Compensation laws in North Carolina

The following is a guest blog post written by a colleague and good friend of mine, Kevin Bunn.  Kevin is also an exceptional North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer.

I read Harry Payne’s editorial in last week’s Raleigh News and Observer and was struck by the lack of progress on enforcing North Carolina’s mandatory workers’ compensation laws.  With very few exceptions, any business that employs three or more employees in North Carolina must provide for workers’ compensation benefits. Typically businesses do this by buying workers’ comp insurance.  Unfortunately a large number of employers cheat the system, either simply refusing to buy the insurance coverage or misclassifying actual employees as “independent contractors.”   As a result we see frequently bad and occasionally horrific situations where injured workers go without the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled.  Meanwhile, the cheaters get a competitive advantage over the legitimate businesses that play by the rules.

As a workers’ compensation attorney, I know the problems with uninsured employers first hand.  A few years ago I represented the widow of a truck driver who died in a fire when his truck ran off the road.  The trucking company was uninsured, although the owners acknowledge that they knew they should have had coverage.  The simply made a business decision to pay themselves rather than buying workers’ comp.  After two hearings and much time they finally paid the claim from their own funds.  It would have been much less expensive for them to have simply bought workers’ comp insurance in the first place.

Last year the News and Observer’s Mandy Locke ran an excellent series of articles exposing this employer fraud.  There appeared to be a broad political consensus that something needed to be done.  Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin convened a bipartisan commission to look into the issue.  And as Mr. Payne noted, they discovered that the problem is even worse than believed:  “Employers who disobey the (workers’ compensation) law are also likely to cheat the government, their employees and their competitors by failing to pay unemployment insurance taxes, Social Security taxes, and income taxes.”   The commission recommended that the legislature provide that the mischaracterization of independent contractors be vigorously pursued and severely punished.  Unfortunately, very little has happened since.

It is past time to make some progress on this issue.  In a state as technology-savvy as North Carolina it is beyond belief that we cannot meet the challenge of ensuring that businesses comply with the mandatory workers’ comp laws.  After all, who do you think pays the cost of the medical treatment and disability for badly injured workers who work for uninsured employers?

Kevin Bunn, Attorney at Law, Cary, North Carolina

What I love about Workers Compensation in North Carolina…

If I was asked what I love most about Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina, there are several answers that come to mind:

  1. Helping injured North Carolinian’s to get the benefits they are legally entitled to
  2. A complex and exciting area of law to practice in
  3. Meeting and building relationships with other lawyers who feel as strongly as I do about helping the workers of North Carolina

Today I had the privilege to meet with two other Workers’ Comp lawyers that share my vision for helping the injured people of North Carolina.  And while most lawyers would never sing the praises of their competition on their blog, I’m not like most lawyers.

First, I’d like to mention Sam Scudder of Scudder & Hedrick in Raleigh.  Sam and I had lunch today – and he, unsolicited, offered to help me out as I continue to build my Workers’ Comp practice.  Sam is a more established attorney with a full caseload, and certainly has other things to do besides help me – but that wasn’t the impression I got.  Sam is a good guy, and I would have no hesitation referring him work.

Second, I met with Jesse Shapiro of The Law Office of Jesse Shapiro in his Apex office. Like Sam, Jesse and I share a common vision of helping the people of North Carolina who need our assistance the most.  Jesse started his practice in 2006, and also offered to help me out in anyway he could.

If only more attorneys could be like Sam and Jesse – my impression is that most of the small group of attorneys that practice Workers Compensation are.

As the Workers Compensation Bar begins to gear up for a legislative fight in which the corporate interests are trying to take away benefits that workers are legally entitled to (more on this in future posts), it is important to have friends like Sam and Jesse on your side.