Good, Bad and Ugly Changes in North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Law

On June 24, 2011, changes to workers' compensation law in the state of North Carolina went into effect. If you've suffered a work-related accident, repetitive motion injury or occupational disease, these changes are likely to affect you and your family.

The Good: Death Benefit Increases

A good and long overdue change for injured workers is in the area of death benefits. Dependents of an employee who dies as a result of a compensable injury or occupational disease will now receive $10,000 - an increase of $6,500 - for burial expenses. Payments to dependents for weekly wage benefits are increased from 400 weeks to 500 weeks from the date of the employee's death. As before, such weekly payments are extended in the event the employee's widow or widower suffers from her or his own disability which predates the employee's death or in the event the employee's children have not yet reached the age of 18.

The Bad: Duration of Benefits

A significant detrimental change is the limitation to the length of time an injured employee may receive benefits. For injuries sustained prior to July 1, 2011 that cause total disability, benefits are collectable for the entire time the injured worker is totally disabled. Under the newly-enacted law, anyone who is totally disabled from an injury sustained on or after July 1, 2011 is limited to only 500 weeks of benefits - approximately 9.5 years.

Nine and half years may sound like a long time but consider the consequences to a 25-year-old who is raising two young children on his or her own. In nine and half years, those children will still be in grade school and the 35-year-old injured employee with a full life yet to live and likely no workers' compensation to provide for the needs of the family.

There is an option for an extension but, among other requirements, the employee must prove that he or she has sustained a total loss of wage-earning capacity. Additionally, once the extension is granted, the decision remains open for review and benefits can be discontinued if the employer proves the employee no longer has total loss of wage-earning capabilities. Also, upon reaching retirement age, if the employee collects full retirement benefits from Social Security, the extended benefits may be drastically reduced.

There are numerous changes that allow for even more control of an injured worker's medical treatment by their employer or an insurance company. These changes include limitations on the second-opinion evaluations and the elimination of long standing protections that prevented employers and insurance company representatives from communicating directly with medical providers. The new changes create many opportunities for injured workers and their families to be treated unfairly.

The Ugly: Workers' Compensation Law is Confusing!

In addition to the above-discussed changes, there are many more changes impacting the rights of injured employees and their families. No matter what kind of work-related injury you or a loved one has experienced, consult with lawyers experienced in workers' compensation law.