What is Fair?

What is fair? Today’s post is a bit off the beaten path. I’m on the “legal documents” committee of my homeowner’s association.  Basically, our committee’s job is to review all the legal documents for our HOA (bylaws, covenants, articles of incorporation, etc.) Exciting stuff, right? Well the whole point of this little exercise is that some of the homeowners in our community are charged higher homeowners dues than other members. The homeowners that pay higher dues live in million dollar homes, while the homeowners that pay less live in “regular” homes.  I fall into the latter camp.

Fortunately, we have legal documents that govern how our dues are calculated and what we pay.  It is very difficult to change these documents. Thus the question – what is fair? Is it fair that I pay less in HOA dues than someone in a million dollar home? Is it fair that I have access to the same amenities and community property that they do? I knew what I was getting into when I bought my house – so yes, I think it is very fair. Trying to change the rules now, after I’ve bought my house – that’s not fair.

What in the world does this have to do with Workers Compensation law? Everything. You took a job with an employer. You work hard for them and they pay you a wage which may or may not be fair. You work for the same company, year after year, and then the unthinkable happens. You get injured on the job.

What is fair? Fair is an employer that does what they are supposed to do under the law. They (or their insurance company) pay you for your time out of work, they provide you with medical treatment, and they do all of this promptly so that you can get better and get back to work.

Unfortunately, all too often the employer is the million-dollar homeowner. They are completely fine using you as an employee, and as soon as you are injured and unable to work, they want to change the rules. They will either deny your claim outright, they will pay your medical bills but refuse to pay for your time out of work (forcing you to go back to work before you are physically able), or they’ll pay you, but payments will be consistently late and unpredictable.

I bring this up now because election season is quickly approaching. Last year, we had a tough battle with the insurance companies that tried to shred our workers’ compensation system under the guise of “getting North Carolinian’s back to work”. Fortunately, we had a Governor with veto power who was able to keep lawmakers from taking things too far. This year, the governor’s race is up for grabs. Pat McCrory is a million-dollar homeowner who wants to change the rules, make it easier for insurance companies to justify denying your claims and make it more difficult for you to prosecute your case, if you need to. Simply put – that’s not fair.

We have a good system in place. It’s a fair system. Let’s keep it that way.

 

 

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.

Insurance Company Lobby wants NC Legislators to cut benefits to Workers

Anyone who has been following Workers Compensation in North Carolina over the recent months (or years) knows that there is a constant battle raging with the insurance company lobbyists that are trying to persuade legislators to introduce a bill (we think, the bill hasn’t been introduced yet) to cap benefits for totally disabled workers at 500 weeks and force workers to take jobs that are not substantially similar to what they were doing pre-injury (and at lower income levels).

Your state representatives are being pressured by insurance company lobbyists and the NC Chamber of Commerce to reduce benefits to injured workers. One of the changes being pushed is placing an artificial cap on the number of weeks of weekly compensation benefits an injured worker can receive. That would allow weekly compensation benefits to be stopped even if someone is still disabled. Another change being considered is forcing injured workers to take any type job they can find if they can not return to the job they were doing when they were injured. An example of this would be a teacher, electrician, construction supervisor or any other worker being forced to take a Wal-Mart greeter job. The loss of income claim resulting from the job change would be capped. Several other reductions to benefits are being considered.

If you are an injured worker who is reading this blog, I encourage you to take action and contact your state representative to tell them how these changes might affect your lives. I ask that you call and write your Representative and Senator and ask them to vote against any new laws that reduce workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers. These new laws will probably pass if legislators don’t hear from the people they represent.

When you contact your representatives, tell them the following:

  • Please tell them how important your workers’ compensation benefits are to you and your family;
  • Let them know what the impact would be on you if your workers’ compensation benefits were reduced or stopped;
  • Tell them about your injury and how it has affected you;
  • Tell them not to give in to the insurance company lobbyists who want them to put profit before injured people;
  • You can also ask your family members and friends to call and write;

If you are not able to speak with your representatives when you call, please leave a detailed message outlining your concerns.

You can figure out who your representative is by going to this web page and inputting your zip code (You will need to go here first to look up the last four digits of your zip code).

If you have any questions, or need some help – please feel free to call my office at (919) 460-5422.  I’d be happy to look up the information for you.