North Carolina Workers Compensation Experts See a Big Legal Battle Brewing in Seattle

December 1, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

The business of reforming North Carolina workers’ compensation – or any other state system – is a complicated and fraught one.

To wit, a monumental brouhaha is brewing in Seattle, Washington over a reform program championed by WA businesses. Theoretically, the reforms could save the Washington workers’ comp system upwards of $1.2 billion, including a one-time net savings of $730 million. Different entities within the Washington government have proposed wildly different estimates of the savings that the business backed plan would generate. Labor groups are vociferously protesting; they have put forward a different plan that may save the system approximately $450 million over the next several years.

According to the Seattle Times, WA governor Chris Gregoire is treading carefully, aiming to split the different between these two plans. The state’s Office of Financial Management believes that one quarter of all injury claims in WA (approximately 7,000 cases) will end up at settlement. The Chair of Washington state’s House Labor Committee, representative Mike Cells, doesn’t plan to give the bill a hearing, stalling its advance.

What bearing does this tug of war over Washington state’s potentially insolvent workers’ comp system have on the North Carolina workers’ compensation system?

Practically speaking, not a lot!

But although Washington is located literally thousands of miles away from North Carolina, it’s a mistake to underestimate the influence that out of state battles over benefits and entitlements can have on the timbre of debate here in NC. As we’ve explored in other posts, states around the union are desperate to get workers’ comp costs under control. (Witness the recent very public battles in both Illinois and California over similar issues.) As the national economy continues to stall and unemployment rates remain stubbornly high, political figures will look at entitlement programs like unemployment and workers’ comp to identify places to cut.

The problem is that indiscriminate, non-strategically optimized cutting may not necessarily save states. Slashing may also create longer term headaches — not just for hurt and injured workers, but also for the states’ fiscal health. Imagine, for instance, if the North Carolina General Assembly passed a draconian measure to chip away at workers’ comp. Say, for instance, the benefits period maxed out at 250 weeks. What might happen to all those hurt and sick workers? Where will they get money to support their families and to pay for rehab and medical bills? It’s not like these people will just disappear.

Obviously, there is no quick solution to these problems. And if you are personally struggling with an employer or insurance company, a consultation with a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can be crucial to making sure that you’re treated fairly and justly — and that you have the information you need to get your health back on track.

More Web Resources:

Can the Washington workers’ comp system be saved?

North Carolina General Assembly plan to reform NC workers’ comp


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