New Workers’ Compensation Bill signed into law in North Carolina

Earlier this week, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed a new Workers’ Compensation bill into law that will make several major changes to the current law.  This bill, entitled the “Protecting and Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act” contains number of changes to the existing Workers’ Compensation law that injured workers must be aware of.  Many of the new provisions affect pending claims, while some will impact future claims.

Here is a quick summary of some of the major changes to current system:

  1. Restricts the ability of an injured worker to select their own physician by requiring an employee to apply to the Industrial Commission for a change in treating physician. For the Commission to grant such a request, the employee must show that the requested change of treatment or health care provider is reasonably necessary to effect a cure, provide relief, or lessen the period of disability.  If the employee does not seek permission first, the Commission may disregard or give lesser weight to the opinion of any health care provider not otherwise authorized by the employer or Commission to evaluate, diagnose or treat the employee before the employee file the request for a change.
  2. Provides a procedure by which employers may request medical records directly from an employee’s treating health care provider, so long as they give the employee contemporaneous written notice of any request for medical records and prior notice of any request to talk to the employee’s doctors.
  3. Places a 500 week limit, subject to some exceptions, on the duration of compensation that is paid for total disabilities.
  4. Increases the maximum duration of compensation for partial disability from 300 weeks to 500 weeks.
  5. Allows the employer to request a termination of benefits for as long as an employee refuses “suitable employment” without justification.

These are just a few of the changes to the existing law.  This bill became the law in North Carolina as soon as Governor Perdue signed it into law, although some sections of the legislation apply to claims pending on or after the effective date, and some apply only to claims arising on or after the effective date.

Exactly how this legislation will affect injured workers, or how it will be interpreted by the courts remains to be seen.