June 2010

Appalachian State University to Host North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Conference

June 30, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Appalachian State University will host a symposium on North Carolina workers’ compensation from August 1st to August 2nd in Winston-Salem, NC at the Embassy Suites Hotel. The symposium offers an opportunity for insurance professionals, lawmakers, employers, attorneys, regulators, and economists to get together to discuss critical issues about the state’s workers’ comp system.

For more information, go to http://insurance.appstate.edu// — you can also register online there. The price is $129 if you register by the 10th of July and $149 after that. The symposium is titled: “North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation System: is the “compensation bargain” still working for both employers and employees in our state?”

The conference aims to take a deeper and more levelheaded look at the so-called North Carolina workers’ compensation bargain – the idea that injured workers should be covered for medical care and missed wages in exchange for not filing negligence claims or debating questions of fault. Ideally, the system should move cases through faster because establishing fault is not the key issue. In practice, however, many North Carolina workers’ compensation claims end up tied up in court, potentially creating a drag on the system and even on the economy as a whole.

Some of the brightest minds and luminaries in the arena of North Carolina workers’ compensation will attend this conference. Special speakers include Nicole Coomer, an economist at the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, Jay Norris, the President of the North Carolina Association of Self Insurers, Carol Telles, an analyst at the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, and Pamela Young, the Chair of the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

If you or a loved one faces an intractable problem with your benefits or insurer; or if you need help understanding anything about the process, connect today with a knowledgeable and a results-proven North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney.

More Web Resources:

Appalachian State University

“North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation System: is the “compensation bargain” still working for both employers and employees in our state?”

Tire Inspector Successfully Defends North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Benefits

June 28, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Breaking news in a key North Carolina workers compensation case: The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld an award in the case of Hatley v. Continental General Tire, stipulating that the claimant (Hatley) was entitled to temporary total disability benefits pursuant to an injury he suffered while repairing a tire.


Hatley was a tire inspector who hurt his hand during a blowout accident at work. After he got treated, his physician put him on light duty restriction. Following this rest, he tried to go back to work but found that he could not perform his duties because of continued problems with his injured hand. His employer told him that he had to continue working or retire. The inspector chose to retire and take a new position as a teacher’s assistant, six months after the fact. His employer sought to get out of paying for disability claims; he alleged that not all of Hatley’s symptoms could be traced back to the at-work accident. (Pursuant to the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured worker must be able to show that a workplace injury caused a disability that resulted in impairment.)

The employer’s argument fell short, according to the Court of Appeals, because no doctor testified precisely how much of the injury resulted from work place trauma and how much resulted from other factors. Without good medical testimony to this point, the Court concluded that “any attempt to apportion plaintiff’s injury would have been speculative and improper.”

Although the plaintiff in this case managed to hold on to his temporary total disability benefits, many other workers with legitimate claims are not so lucky. They can find their benefits retroactively stripped from them. If you have questions or concerns about how to handle a difficult employer or a non-cooperative insurance company, it’s probably in your best interest to discuss your case in confidence with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney.

More Web Resources:

Hatley v. Continental General Tire

The North Carolina Court of Appeals

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Analysts React to Rate Drop in South Carolina

June 23, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

On June 15th, regulators announced that South Carolina workers’ compensation rates would fall to 9.8% — news that has sent ripples of interest and concern across the North Carolina workers’ compensation community. According to SC Insurance Director, Scott Richardson, 2009 marked the second year in a row in which regulators approved a decrease. He argued that “this trend [implies] an improved economic climate, and [we] hope to see this continue into next year.”

SC insurers will be able to use the new 9.8% rate in just 30 days. Richardson cited multiple reasons for the decline in rates, including enhanced employee safety programs, a reduction in the frequency of claims, and changes to the nature of claims themselves. In South Carolina, more than 40% of benefit costs can be directly attributed to payments for medical services. Most SC workers’ comp costs go to indemnity payments – that is, benefits to replace wages lost. As Richardson and others have noted, the extent to which the rate change will impact policy regarding medical costs in the state remains to be seen. Richardson noted that the state “will continue to monitor and assess the impact these reforms have on workers’ compensation rates…as it will take several years to realize the full impact.”

Meanwhile, north of the border, North Carolina workers’ compensation experts have been feverishly debating whether and how these rate changes might influence the playing field up here. So many unbalancing factors are at play – both at the state level (see our earlier blog entry about the ongoing devastation at the last year’s Slim Jim plant in the town of Garner, for instance) and at the national level (see our past blog entries on the local implications of the Gulf oil spill, for instance).

It’s important to recognize the limits of our collective power to influence the interactions of the dynamic elements that comprise the ecology of the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. Even among key players — who include but are not limited to insurance adjusters, attorneys, judges, economists, employers, employees, and their families — debate about how to set rates rages.

Getting away from generalities and down to brass tacks… if you or a loved one has a clear and present concern about North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits, insurance, or coverage, consider connecting today with a top caliber attorney to discuss your needs and responsibilities.

More Web Resources:

South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Rates to Drop 9.8%

South Carolina Regulators Approve 9.8% Cut in Workers’ Comp Rates

The Gulf Oil Spill and North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Claims – Latest Breaking News Out of the White House

June 21, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Most news coverage about the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill has focused, understandably, on states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas because they are “in the line of fire” of the spillage. But North Carolina workers’ compensation experts and other local observers have expressed a plethora of concerns over how the spill might ultimately impact the economy of North Carolina. In particular, what might happen to local workers and employers injured by the environmental and economic fallout? Will North Carolina fishing industries suffer? If so, by how much? What about the state’s oil and gas industry — how will the BP disaster impact it and all those who depend on that industry for employment and income? And so on.

These questions about the relevance to North Carolina workers compensation remain unanswered. But a White House fact sheet released last Wednesday outlines some critical specifics regarding victim compensation for the oil spill. Per this fact sheet:

1. An independent claims facility will be established to ensure that those with recoverable claims (e.g. businesses and individuals) will be paid in a quick and transparent manner. Kenneth Feinberg – the former administrator of the September 11th Fund – will be the head administrator.

2. BP will establish an escrow account and contribute $20 billion to it to make sure that funds exist to pay injured workers, businesses, and others. BP has stated that it will not hide under the protection of the Oil Pollution Act to cap its liability.

3. BP will additionally contribute $100 million to provide support for workers rendered jobless by the oil rig disaster, and the payouts will be handled by the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program.

4. BP will contribute another $0.5 billion to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which will explore ways and means to mitigate the environmental and economic fallout of the oil pollution and set in place long-term monitoring stations along the Gulf Coast (and presumably elsewhere – if the spill trickles out to places like North Carolina).

Although many environmental activists and Gulf Coast politicos have welcomed these concrete steps that the White House and BP have taken, some worry that they may be too little, too late.

If you or a co-worker or a family member has encountered problems with your benefits, insurer, or even the North Carolina Industrial Commission itself, it may be in your interest to connect with a trusted North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney to get a free and no obligation consultation.

More Web Resources:

Kenneth Feinberg

White House fact sheet about BP fund

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Bloggers Weigh in on Octomom’s Lawsuit Settlement

June 16, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Although her saga does not technically pertain directly to North Carolina workers’ compensation matters, Octomom Nadya Suleman quest for workers’ comp has riveted the attention of the nation. According to breaking reports, the Southern California mom of 8 has finally settled a long standing lawsuit for workers comp for just a little over $23,000.


In 1999, Suleman sustained an injury at the Metropolitan State Hospital while working as a psychiatric technician (hurt her back). For this, she subsequently received around $170,000, which she used in part to fund the in vitro fertilization that led to her becoming the mother of octuplets last January. The California Division of Workers’ Compensation reported that her original settlement of $40,000 was diminished by nearly half because of attorney’s fees and advance payments.

Suleman has been roasted widely in the press for feeding her children with food stamps, selling pictures of herself clad in a bikini to the tabloids, and taking $5,000 from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in exchange for putting a sign in her window that reads “don’t let your dog or cat become an Octomom – Always spay or neuter.”

The workers’ comp drama may not be over for Ms. Suleman, given that some of her medical providers have a lien against her, claiming that she owes them around $800.

Are there lessons here for would be North Carolina workers’ compensation claimants? Likely not. Ms. Suleman’s case is fairly unique, and not just because she has octuplets and has behaved in fairly idiosyncratic manner. California has special laws in place that may not be applicable to North Carolina workers’ compensation cases.

For instance as this blog recently reported, an NFL player who hurts himself in a game in California can theoretically claim workers’ comp benefits from the state for the rest of his life – CA is unique in the nation regarding this kind of liberal policy.

If you or a family member faces difficulties collecting benefits, wrangling with insurance companies, or even processing paperwork to meet critical deadlines, it may behoove you to speak with a reputable and battle proven North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. As the case of Octomom illustrates, workers’ comp – whether you succeed in getting appropriate payments or not – may not be a complete solution for your financial woes.

Speak with a financial planner to draw up a battle plan for you and your family to get on a more even financial keel.

More Web Resources

Octuplets mom Nadya Suleman settles her workers’ comp case

Octuplet mom settles disability claim for $23,000

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Experts Debate Wells Fargo Ruling Out of Minnesota

June 14, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Last Wednesday, the multinational bank Wells Fargo was ordered to pay out $30 million to four non-profit entities, pursuant to a jury’s verdict that the bank participated in fraud. North Carolina workers’ compensation policy analysts have been reviewing the case to see whether it may have interstate implications.

The four non-profit entities — the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Reinsurance Association, the Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi Foundation for Children, the Minnesota Medical Foundation, and the Minneapolis Foundation — all alleged that Wells Fargo essentially tricked them into believing that they were investing in low risk options, when in actuality the bank had been funneling their money into risky investments which blew up during the recent credit collapse. The jury found that the bank violated the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act (and other laws). Punitive damages have yet to be assessed against Wells Fargo.

Representatives for the bank expressed disappointment about the decision, although it could have been worse for Wells Fargo. The non-profits asked for $400 million — more than ten times what the jury returned.

The litigation over punitive damages (and the potential Wells Fargo appeal) could stretch on for years – a not uncommon phenomenon in North Carolina workers’ compensation cases in which millions of dollars hang in the balance.

Most individual workers’ comp cases involving occupational diseases, injuries at work, and conflicts with insurers do not take as long to resolve and do not get nearly as complicated as the Wells Fargo case. Nevertheless, if you or a loved one faces friction getting benefits, dealing with an insurer, or managing the deadlines associated with your claim, connect at once with a reputable and experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney to review your strategic options and make sure that you’ve dotted all your I’s and crossed all your T’s.

More Web Resources

Wells Fargo vs the non-profits

Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Reinsurance Association

BP Spill May Have Long Term Implications for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Claims

June 9, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

The ongoing oil well gusher in the Gulf of Mexico may have a profound impact on North Carolina workers’ compensation claims, even though at present the residue remains hundreds of miles away from North Carolina shores.

With President Obama, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen and thousands of other federal, state, and local officials and engineers “on the case” to get the deep sea oil well capped and to resolve the environmental and human health fallout, one might think that North Carolina would be spared significant damage. But a recent ABC News analysis of how the potential spill may evolve over the coming months suggests that tarballs and other oil spill related environmental problems may come to haunt North Carolina shores, cause injuries to fisherman and workers here and lead to a host of North Carolina workers’ compensation claims.

All sorts of indirect problems may be in the offing. Consider that, in May, the Obama administration ordered BP to stop using a chemical called Corexit (a dispersant) because of its potentially toxic effects on ocean life and on engineers who disperse it. The spill may also have tertiary and quaternary impacts on the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. If, as many analysts fear, the spill drives the US into a double dip recession or at least slows down growth, business owners and insurers in NC will come under intense pressure to downsize and cut corners. As any half aware watcher of the North Carolina workers’ compensation scene knows, when business owners cut corners, people get hurt at work. It would be very difficult to trace any resultant injuries back to the BP spill (after all, it’s tough enough to isolate secondary consequences of a disaster like this – much less tertiary and quaternary consequences), but an historical analysis might indeed suggest that the thesis proposed here has merit.

Of course, though the press, environmental activists, and Federal civil engineers may be apoplectic about the spill, you as an injured state worker don’t care as much about the national implications. You just want to know how to get your benefits, deal with frustrating insurance companies and negotiate with uncooperative employers.

To that end, don’t replicate the kinds of mistakes that BP has made over the past few months. Get help sooner to understand your personal financial situation better, and talk to a creditable and experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney to explore how to get fair benefits quickly and cut through red tape.

More Web Resources


Politico Story about BP Spill Workers Comp Issues

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Watchers Captivated by Bizarre Marijuana/Grizzly Bear Case Out of Montana

June 7, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Many North Carolina workers’ compensation cases wind up being dry and technical, requiring attorneys to develop nuanced arguments based on subtle interpretations of the law. But a new case out of Montana has engendered lots of laughs and some raised eyebrows. Below are the deets.

On June 7, a judge found in favor of a 23-year old plaintiff, Brock Hopkins, who was mauled by a bear he had been feeding while high on marijuana. Brock had been volunteering at Great Bear Adventures in Montana. One day, he smoked a pipe of marijuana and came in to do his job when the bear attacked him, dislocating his knee cap, and leading to $70,000 in medical expenses.

The park’s owner, Russell Kilpatrick, argued that Hopkins’ marijuana use was the major cause of the attack – had he not been high, the bear would not have attacked. But although the judge found Hopkins behavior to be “ill advised to say the least and mind bogglingly stupid to say the most,” he also found that Kilpatrick’s testimony that he paid Hopkins “out of my heart” to be laughably disingenuous. Since Hopkins should have been considered an employee of the park, he deserved workers comp benefits.

We have to throw in this pretty amazing quote from Kilpatrick about the event: “Brock could not resist one last time of harassing the bear with his habit of blowing smoke in their faces for God only knows what reason in direct defiance of my telling him not to disturb them!!!”

Hopkins is clearly lucky to have survived the encounter and hopefully has learned his lesson. If you or another family member has been hurt at work (even if you don’t work at a Grizzly Park), your employer or the state could be liable for your medical bills, time off work and other costs. Filing out a North Carolina workers’ compensation claim is not easy. You can find more information about how to do so at the official North Carolina Industrial Commission website.

If you encounter any problems with your insurer, employer, or any other party, it may make sense to connect ASAP with a top caliber North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney to review your rights and make sure the legal system treats you fairly.

More Web Resources

Bear Attack Victim Eligible for Workers’ Comp Despite Marijuana Use

Pot not to blame for bear mauling, judge rules

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Experts Concerned about the Fate of Independent Contractors

June 3, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

According to a recent story in The Charlotte Observer, companies across the state are taking the unusual step of hiring back formerly fired employees to work as independent contractors. This has North Carolina workers’ compensation experts concerned. Although many contractors have relationship with staffing companies like the Raleigh-based Manpower, staffing companies don’t usually provide the same kinds of benefits that traditional employers do.

The Observer news story tells the tale of several workers who lost their jobs and benefits – then got rehired as contractors through an agency. These workers ended up with the same bosses and salaries and responsibilities as they used to have – but without the benefits, North Carolina workers’ compensation coverage, sick days and paid vacations. In a time of belt-tightening, many employees view this option as the only way out of dire financial straits. But is this kind of arrangement exploitative or in violation of North Carolina Workers’ Compensation law?

It’s easy to demonize parties when analyzing these seemingly intractable problems with North Carolina Workers’ Compensation coverage. You could blame workers groups for not doing enough to ensure that independent contractors get fair treatment. You could blame employers for not doing enough to protect and value their workers. You could blame state agencies, insurance companies, and even the state and federal governments for enacting flawed policies or failing to enact appropriate policies to address the tactical problems on the ground.

If you are an employee (or loved one of an employee) who has been forced to do independent contract work and thus opt out of North Carolina workers’ compensation coverage, you are concerned with practicalities:

What happens if you get injured at work?
What happens if you got injured at work before you lost your job?
What should you do if your insurance company refuses to pay out your North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits?

To meet these challenges, it may behoove you to speak immediately with a knowledgeable North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. The law is complex. And you may be entitled to significant benefits – particularly if your employer has misclassified you as an independent contractor when really you should be classified as a full-time employee.

More Web Resources:

Raleigh-based Manpower

You are… unfired