July 2010

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Experts Debate Implications of $100 Million Oil Rig Compensation Fund

July 28, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

North Carolina workers’ compensation policy experts have largely been absent from the debate over how the Obama administration and BP’s $100 million workers’ compensation fund will be dispersed to rig workers rendered temporarily unemployed (or underemployed) by the recently imposed moratorium on off-shore drilling (due to end in November). That said, local pundits, fisherman, and policy wonks have been keeping a close eye on the unfolding story. This article can give you some background and introduce you to key points being discussed.

Background

Pursuant to the massive BP oil well spill – which this blog actually covered just weeks after the explosion happened – the Obama administration imposed a moratorium on offshore drilling to prevent additional catastrophes similar to what happened to the Deepwater Horizon. Unfortunately, by imposing this moratorium, the administration essentially put thousands of oil rig workers on a forced hiatus. To compensate these workers and others harmed by the spill, the White House assigned Ken Feinberg to administer a $20 billion Oil Spill Fund. (In case you don’t recall, Feinberg was the same man who administered the reparation fund for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.) Although Feinberg has promised to be very lenient as to the proof that he and his team will require to grant compensation, many industry workers are confused. And employers and workers in peripheral industries – even way up here in North Carolina – also must contend with uncertainty and work slowdowns associated indirectly with the BP spill.

In short, North Carolina workers’ compensation experts are busy trying to figure out whether — if at all — the BP spill money will translate to compensation for NC employees and others glancingly impacted. One school of thought – the predominant one – says that the oil spill will have a negligible effect, since it’s so far away. Another theory suggests that the spill will have a domino effect, essentially ricocheting through the economy of states that touch the Gulf and Mid Atlantic. In either case, unless you are directly working on a rig or directly impacted by this spill, it’s unlikely that you will be able to collect from the nationally established fund. But this doesn’t mean that the spill won’t affect you in indirect ways.

The key is to figure out what’s in your circle of control and influence. What can you personally do to improve your chances of collecting North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits in a timely fashion and to work around obstacles thrown up by your employer, the North Carolina Industrial Commission or an insurance company?

To that end, you will likely need legal guidance. Trust your case to a veteran North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney – one who has handled many similar kinds of cases in the past successfully.

More Web Resources:

North Carolina Industrial Commission

BP’s $100 million workers’ compensation fund

Could President Obama’s New Bill Reduce the Number of North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Cases?

July 23, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

On July 19, the Obama administration laid out a four-year path for state agencies to improve safety standards and limit North Carolina workers’ compensation cases (and cases in the other 49 states, as well!). Obama’s memo noted that in 2009, 79,000+ claims were filed and $1.6 billion in payments were handed out. The President said “many of these work-related injuries and illnesses are preventable, and executive departments can and should do even more to improve work place safety and health.”

The President’s initiative, Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring Reemployment (POWER) compels agencies to improve in 7 categories of performance by the close of FY 2014. These include reducing total injury/illness rates, reducing lost time and illness rates, analyzing lost time data, increasing the timely filing of wage loss and workers’ comp claims, reducing loss production rates, and speeding employees’ return to their jobs. On Wednesday, the House Committee will further explore how to deal with federal workplace injuries.

How will POWER impact the North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system? At this point, it’s obviously too early to tell. Clearly, if relevant agencies can impose stricter standards to simultaneously promote better care, better service, and faster re-employment, this would be a win-win-win for all parties concerned. But some critics worry that, in their rush to comply with POWER, agencies might accidentally (or purposefully) disempower some claimants. For instance, by trying to enforce point number 7 of POWER’s Plan (speeding employees back to work), agencies might inadvertently compel seriously injured or sick people to take on work that they are not ready for yet. Of course, it’s obviously way too early to weigh in on the merits of this order, but it is certain to change the playing field.

Do you or a loved one need help with your workers’ comp case? Have you been having trouble with your insurance company, employer, or provider? If so, consider getting the advice of a respected and credentialed North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney today.

More Web Resources:

Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring Reemployment

WaPo opinion on POWER

Former Chicago Bears Tight End Gets $300,000+ in Comp Case: North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Analysts Debate Implications

July 22, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Gabe Reid, a former tight end for the Chicago Bears, got an award of $325,000 for a knee injury from the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission this week. North Carolina workers’ compensation experts have been closely following NFL related workers’ comp cases like Reid’s – this blog reported last month about California’s dilemma over how and whether to compensate injured athletes who played for teams outside of California but who got hurt in games played in the Golden State.

Reid played for the Bears from 2003 to 2006. The team released him in 2006 to be an unrestricted free agent. His settlement was the biggest settlement for a pro athlete in Illinois history; although another ex-Bear, Mike Brown, recently collected $140,000 for injuries he suffered to his foot and leg while he played for the Bears. More ex-Bears may be eligible to collect additional funds, according to state sports reporters.

How will Reid’s settlement impact similar North Carolina workers’ compensation cases, if at all? Will ex-Panthers be eligible for similarly large payouts? Truth be told, the states individually are in the process of working out how to compensate NFL athletes (and athletes in other sports). And it will likely be several years before policy analysts have enough data to draw any clear conclusions. However, with all the financial pressure on state workers’ compensation agencies to tighten their budgets – and the new POWER initiative launched by the Obama administration, which this blog reported on earlier in the week – it may be more difficult for claimants to win relevant arguments.

Irrespective of what happens to ex-NFLers like Reid and Brown, what can you personally do to improve the likelihood of collecting fair and flexible benefits for your injury or workplace illness?

If you suffered a chronic, debilitating injury at work such as a knee problem or typing injury – or if you got hurt in some kind of acute accident – such as a slip and fall or work-related car accident – you must simultaneously struggle under a number of burdens. First, you must deal with the medical recuperation, which can be exhausting and emotionally draining in and of itself. Then, you need to figure out how to rehabilitate yourself and get back to work in some fashion ASAP – and/or how to deal with your financial situation. And lastly, under certain circumstances, you might have to fight back against unwilling employers, recalcitrant insurance companies, and bureaucratic red tape to get benefits paid out in a timely fashion.

With all these stresses on your shoulders, it may behoove you to discuss your problems with a qualified North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. A good lawyer can simplify your strategy, relieve you of logistical and emotional stresses, and help you collect appropriate payments without hassle or frustration.

More Web Resources:

Gabe Reid case

Mike Brown case

Will End of Unemployment Benefits Impact North Carolina Workers’ Compensation?

July 14, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

North Carolina workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits recipients have been scrambling to prepare themselves financially for the end of some government protections. Since the beginning of June, according to the Rocky Mount Telegram, probably 20,000 NC residents have been dropped from unemployment compensation — every week!

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 270 to 153 to extend some unemployment benefits for people who have been long out of work; however, the US Senate has thus far refused to pass that measure – or any like it – into law. This dispiriting news comes on the heels of a grim jobs report in June that has prompted economists – including many traditionally chipper analysts – to voice fears that the US may be plunging into a “double dip” recession – a dangerous circumstance that could put even more pressure on workers who rely on unemployment benefits and North Carolina workers’ compensation to provide for themselves and their children.

On the upside, the North Carolina unemployment rate appears to be dropping in some key counties. Edgecombe County saw its unemployment rate fall from a high of 17.2% in January to 14.8% in May. Both the Twin Cities and Nash Counties saw better job markets – and, all told, 86 North Carolina counties saw better numbers in May. So this might be a silver lining to an otherwise grim cloud of North Carolina workers’ compensation news.

Given all the dodgy financial news, injured and sick workers more than ever need to follow up their North Carolina workers’ compensation cases carefully. Recalcitrant employers, uncooperative insurance companies and paperwork-related snafus can result in your not getting timely benefits. All sorts of secondary consequences can come off of that – including missed credit card payments and mortgage payments.

If you or a loved one has any questions or concerns about how to get benefits or keep them coming, get in touch today with a creditable and experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. Don’t wait until the electric company turns out your lights and you lose all sources of income. Protect yourself by doing due diligence and coming up with a budget and get-back-to-work plan that’s plausible and robust.

More Web Resources:

US lawmakers extend jobless benefits

Unemployment signs look better

Washington Ballot Initiative Stokes Debate among North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Policy Analysts

July 12, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Initiative 1082 — way up in Washington State — has sparked a firestorm of debate and controversy among North Carolina workers’ compensation analysts. Ordinarily, a statewide initiative in a far off part of the country would not rile up insurers, business owners, injured workers, and state bureaucrats. But the vocal debate out of Washington has served as a touchtone for a number of issues hotly being discussed right here in NC.

Facts about the Initiative, and Implications for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Politics

The Building Industry Association of Washington – regarded as a politically conservative group – sponsored I-1082 to crack the state monopoly on workers’ comp. To qualify for the ballot, the measure needed 241,000 signatures – allegedly, it got nearly 100,000 signatures above that mark. Clearly, many Washingtonians are fired up. Sponsors argue that the current system sticks business owners with high insurance premiums and allows injured workers to enjoy overly-plump benefits. Opponents of I-1082 say that introducing a for-profit component into the workers’ comp system could degrade benefits and lead to claims being delayed or denied.

Both opponents and proponents of the initiative claim that the implications of I-1082’s passage for the state could be profound. Currently, Washington is one of only four states that does not allow companies to privately compete with a state-run workers’ comp system.

The North Carolina workers’ compensation system allows private insurers to compete – so the WA debate can be relevant only indirectly. However, the growing frustration among business owners regarding workers’ comp costs – and the simultaneous growing health problems among workers, including chronic occupational diseases and medical conditions like obesity and diabetes – may well portend a sea-change in the next few years, economically speaking.

Can small businesses survive a clunky economy and potentially a double dip recession? Can hurt employees – many of whom may soon start to lose their unemployment benefits – survive if their benefits get curtailed or restricted?

If you or a coworker or a family member has been experiencing difficulties collecting your benefits, connect ASAP with an attorney to advise you. A free and confidential consultation with a North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer can help protect your rights and ensure your family’s financial stability.

More Web Resources:

Initiative 1082

Workers comp initiative steps closer to ballot

$1.25 Million Earmarked to Fight Workers’ Comp Fraud in CA – What Do North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Specialists Think of This Move?

July 8, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

The California Department of Insurance made a decision in early July to earmark $1.25 million to battle workers’ comp insurance fraud. Steve Poizner, the often-in-the-news CA Insurance Commissioner, remarked that “fraud creates costs that burden our economy at a time it can least sustain it.”

Those in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community have reacted strongly to California’s decision. Advocates of similar measures here at home argue that funneling money into fraud control can help the system be more functional and protect benefits to attend to the needs of truly injured workers. Opponents of stronger fraud control worry that antifraud dragnets might accidentally sweep up legitimate claims. For instance, take someone who ordinarily would qualify for North Carolina workers’ compensation for a hurt lower back. She might wrongly be denied benefits — or at the very least given an overly hard time to qualify for them.

If you or a loved one or a coworker has experienced problems collecting benefits from a non-cooperating employer or bad faith insurance company, you may have rights and legal means at your disposal that you may not even be aware of. To find out how to protect your interests optimally, connect with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney ASAP. Whether you have been improperly identified as trying to defraud the system, or you are having a simple vexing issue with your workers’ comp, get good help now before it’s too late for you and your family.

More Web Resources:

California Department of Insurance

County tentatively slated to receive $1.25 million for worker’s comp fraud

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Fraud Analysts Follow a Major Scam out of New York

July 6, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Kenneth Bullock, a St. Regis, New York man, has been charged with fraud in conjunction with a scheme that he allegedly had perpetrated since the early 1990s. North Carolina workers’ compensation blogs and analysts are closely following the story.

Background

Bullock worked as a mechanic in New York in the 1990s. While executing his duties, he hurt his back — or so he claimed. Bullock said that his at-work accident rendered him unable to keep servicing cars, and he was put on workers’ comp. While collecting benefits, he moved to Florida and took another mechanic’s job – in direct violation of his workers’ comp arrangement.

If convicted of scamming the system, Bullock could face seven years imprisonment for illegally collecting $39,000 in benefits. Allegedly, surveillance caught Bullock working at a shop – investigators were tipped off when his claims arrived with Florida postage. The Onondaga County Insurance Fraud office will handle the matter, since that location processed Bullock’s claims.

North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud
drains hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars of funds from an already over-milked system every year. It’s obviously in the interest of all parties concerned – from trial attorneys to insurers to employers to injured workers – to clamp down on scams and schemes. Unfortunately, many injured workers with very legitimate claims wind up under investigation for fraud simply because they fail to file paperwork correctly or because they engage in activities to “stretch” themselves – such as aggressive physical rehab.

If you or a family member or a coworker has been wrongfully targeted for North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud, and you need guidance to make sure that you can collect benefits (and not get punished for making an illegitimate claim); or if you simply need basic FAQs answered about how to deal with a difficult employer or how to fight back against a recalcitrant insurance company, get in touch with a credentialed and experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney ASAP. Get good guidance upfront, so you don’t wind up in a protracted battle over your benefits.

More Web Resources:

St. Regis man charged in alleged workers’ comp scam

Franklin County native charged with fraud

 
 

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