March 2011

Will the NC General Assembly Gouge the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation System?

March 30, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

The blogosphere has been on fire since February with worried articles about how and whether the North Carolina General Assembly will fundamentally alter the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. The Republican controlled General Assembly – boosted by business groups – boasts an ambitious agenda to redraw the medical malpractice and North Carolina workers’ compensation systems to limit costs.

Opponents have complained that the proposed legislation could negatively impact hurt workers. For instance, when the changes go into effect:

• workers’ comp will cease after 500 weeks
• individuals who fail to follow their treatment may receive more limited compensation
• workers may lose flexibility in choosing their physicians
• hurt workers may lose certain privacy rights

All told, the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC) processes more than 60,000 claims every year, so the General Assembly’s actions could profoundly change the landscape for hurt workers. Reformers, such as Republican McAlister, have argued that the system is tantamount to a retirement program: “In too many instances, it’s become more of a retirement program instead of taking care of a person until he is ready to go back to work.”

One of the key questions policy makers should look at here is: will the proposed General Assembly changes actually save the state costs and help small business owners? In other words, let’s set aside for a second how precisely these changes would impact hurt workers and ask a more fundamental question: what is the primary purpose of this legislation, and will it accomplish that purpose?

If the state seeks to save money, might there be other ways to make the system more efficient that don’t involve restricting benefits? For instance, could we collectively improve system administration through digital record keeping? Could we enact more data based programs to boost workplace safety and thus reduce burden on the system proactively? Could we help our workers avoid chronic illnesses and obesity by, for instance, regulating soda and sugar consumption on the job? These are all “out of the box” ideas that may or may not be useful, but it’s critical to at least search for “win-win” solutions that will help the state, small businesses and hurt and sick workers alike.

If you need help with a North Carolina workers’ compensation issue, connect with an experienced and highly reputed law firm to protect your rights.

More Web Resources:

North Carolina General Assembly

proposed General Assembly changes to workers’ comp

Top North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Experts Zero In on Heartrending Case Out of Connecticut

March 28, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

While many North Carolina workers’ compensation blogs focus specifically on breaking stories in state, this blog likes to take time occasionally to report on stories from around the nation (and sometimes from around the world) that concern NC workers, employers, insurance agents, and other key players in the system.

On March 21st, The Hartford Courant reported on the poignant story of Stephanie Laurin, who was engaged to a man killed at a Manchester, Connecticut beer distributing company last year by an enraged coworker. Eight people died in the shooting, which made national headlines.

William Ackerman, Laurin’s fiancé, had been receiving $500 per week in workers’ comp. Now, Laurin wants to collect that money. But the Hartford distributor and its insurer has denied Laurin’s claim because she was not technically a family member… even though she was engaged to Ackerman for four years. The key legal question here is: can Laurin be considered a “dependent” or not? According to The Hartford Courant, experts believe that Laurin’s case may wind up before the Connecticut Supreme Court.

If she wins (or loses), therefore, it won’t directly impact the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. But you can be assured that legal experts, lawyers, judges, and policy analysts will be watching the situation carefully. The fact is, the law is constantly redefining the scope, mission, and function of workers’ compensation. Who should be entitled to benefits, for how long, under what circumstances, and for what conditions? Who should pay for those benefits? What constitutes a fair and reasonable response to workplace tragedies?

These and other questions consume the minds of policy makers, judges, and legal experts – there is no “one size fits all” solution to them. Indeed, the answers change dynamically from year to year based on things like political fads, economic constraints, injury rates, and probably dozens of other factors that may be very difficult to measure.

One lesson here is that it’s dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions about the “fairness” or “unfairness” of this system based on one news story or even one piece of legislation. The system is complicated. Even if all key players involved had the best of intentions, occasionally “unfair” situations will arise. For instance, in this case, perhaps, morally speaking, Laurin should qualify as a dependent. But maybe the court will say no because saying “fine” would open the door to legal chaos. Is this fair or not? The answer is obviously up for debate. But the fairness or unfairness of the resolution of Laurin’s quandary should not necessarily reflect positively or negatively on the Connecticut workers’ comp system as a whole.

These complicated argument aside… many people out there have specific and direct questions about their benefits that they need answered now. For instance, maybe you’re dealing with an unfair insurance company or a boss who won’t listen to your concerns or a physician doesn’t believe that you are hurt.

If you need any help, look to a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm with lots of experience and the wherewithal to deliver good results.

More Web Resources:

Manchester, Connecticut beer distributing company shooting

Stephanie Laurin’s struggle

More Information, Less Comprehension: North Carolina Workers' Compensation and “Info Overload”

March 21, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

If you or a loved one just got on North Carolina workers’ compensation due to a workplace-acquired illness or degenerative disease (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome) or accident (e.g. slip and fall at an industrial plant), you are almost certainly spending a good deal of time researching treatment options and exploring mechanisms to get you and your family get back on track.

In theory, this should be easy. The web offers unparalleled access to information about workers’ comp. On this North Carolina workers’ compensation blog alone, we have covered a fantastic diversity of issues, including ideas about how to recover faster from injuries, how to prevent accidents at work, and a smorgasbord of political issues. And this blog is but just a tiny slice. You could spend your entire life reading about workers’ comp on the web and not run out enough information…

Unfortunately, this “super buffet” of ideas can actually lead to more confusion than it resolves. And that additional “info overload” related frustration can compound an already difficult situation.

First of all, let’s acknowledge the reality: Info overload is a real phenomenon; if you are suffering from it, don’t beat yourself up. You haven’t done something “wrong.”

Second of all, you can deploy tools and techniques to siphon and filter the information you find on the Internet and elsewhere to make your life easier and better. Here are some potentially very useful tools:

1. The “getting things done” system (GTD)

Productivity genius David Allen developed a relatively complicated but ultimately profoundly interesting system for managing information workflow. His books on “info overload” related topics include Getting Things Done, Making it All Work, and Ready for Anything.

2. Parkinson’s law

This idea, loosely translated as “a task will take up as much time that is allotted for it” can be fantastically helpful when you are trying to research an idea – especially on the web. Here is the way it works. Give yourself a time limit to make a decision. Don’t make this time limit too narrow, but don’t make it too long, either. For instance, if you’re searching for a place to eat dinner in Raleigh, give yourself 10 minutes to scan restaurant reviews, read Trip Advisor posts, and what not. At the end of 10 minutes, force yourself to make a decision.

You might be surprised to learn that the decisions made in this kind of rapid time control are often as good as — or better than! — decisions that you will make after “researching exhaustibly.”

3. Beware the “Paradox of Choice”

Social scientist Barry Schwartz wrote a remarkable book called the Paradox of Choice, which promotes the idea that “too much” choice can paralyze us and make us less satisfied with any options we choose. Schwartz counsels people to limit their options and instead to seek “satisfaction” instead of “perfection.” This thesis echoes the time-tested aphorism “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” For instance, you don’t need to find the best North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm; you merely need to find one that’s experienced, qualified, and well suited to your needs.

More Web Resources:

Info Overload defined

Getting Things Done

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Experts Weigh in on Big Fraud Case out of Ohio

March 17, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Experts in the field of North Carolina workers’ compensation spend a lot of time ruminating about how to identify and stamp out fraud. When parties bilk the system out of money, not only do the costs ultimately get passed on to insurers, employers and employees who need benefits, but the bonds of trust that hold the system together also weaken.

To that point, the Ohio Bureau for Workers’ Compensation has its hands full dealing with a case of workers’ comp fraud out of Butler County. A chiropractor pled guilty last week to fraud and agreed to pay $104,000 in restitution payments as well as $5,000 to cover the cost of the investigation. Dr. Gary Berner took the plea deal to stop an impending trial. His Back and Spine Center had been at the center of a probe. Dr. Berner and three other employees of the Back and Spine Center faced multiple charges, including workers comp fraud, forgery (32 counts), theft, and racketeering. The other three employees have already been convicted of workers’ comp fraud – Dr. Berner’s trial will start up on March 29th. Dr. Berner, along with his partner, Dr. Bruce Holaday, allegedly developed a scheme to bill for services even after being banned to provide said services to hurt workers.

Obviously, in cases like this, unless you read the investigation very carefully and examine all the arguments that both sides make, you can’t really come to a clear determination. For instance, did the chiropractor and his co-workers harm their patients, or did they simple bend the rules in a relatively benign way? Hard to tell from a simple news account.

All that said, there is a “broken windows” aspect to consider. The “broken windows” theory of crime management suggests that, when a city, store, or other place winds up in disarray (e.g., lots of broken windows, trash on the floor, etc,) it becomes easier for people to “misbehave” and commit criminal acts. Likewise, when chiropractors get away with committing forgery, fraud, and theft, other doctors – who might be “on the fence” about whether to commit fraud or not – may take the plunge and commit illegal actions. Thus, as a precaution, it may be useful to severely punish those who skirt the law.

This debate aside, what’s important to remember is that the workers’ comp system should help injured workers heal and support them and their families. If you are having difficulties navigating the North Carolina workers’ compensation system, you don’t have to keep plugging away on your own.

Connect with a reputable and skilled North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm to go over potential solutions today.

More Web Resources:

“Broken Windows” theory

Dr. Gary Berner workers’ comp case

Closure in Outrageous Case Sparks Applause from the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Community

March 14, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

One of the most talked about North Carolina workers’ compensation stories has come to a resolution that’s been widely celebrated. As this blog reported several months ago, an ex Illinois state trooper, Matt Mitchell, had sought workers’ comp benefits in Illinois for injuries he sustained in a Thanksgiving 2007 crash that left two young women dead. Last Friday, an arbitrator rejected Mitchell’s quest for benefits — in no uncertain terms.

Mitchell’s driving had been egregious by any standard. He had been travelling at 126 miles per hour (!) when he zipped across the median strip on I-64 and killed the girls. As arbitrator Jennifer Teague wrote, the officer “simultaneously drove at speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour on a highway replete with holiday traffic, wrote e-mails on his car computer, and took a personal call lasting almost 4 minutes long… [what he did created] a substantial and unjustifiable risk resulting in a gross deviation in the standard care in his duties as an Illinois state trooper… his conduct was egregiously outside the scope of employment.”

When Mitchell first sought workers’ comp benefits for the accident, unsurprisingly, his act elicited a chorus of angry rebukes — even from parties normally sympathetic to workers’ comp plaintiffs.

The fact is, when claimants make outrageous claims for benefits, all parties in the system suffer. Imagine you’re a hurt worker in Illinois. You tell a friend that you need workers’ comp to pay your family’s bills. Ordinarily, your friend might be sympathetic. But then say in his mind he associates you with this trooper who killed two girls and then begged the state for benefits. He might not be so inclined to see your claim in a positive light!

This is just one of the many challenges that people seeking North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits face. If you need assistance with your matter, get in touch with a reputable North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm at your earliest convenience to avoid making mistakes and to protect your rights as potential claimant.

More Web Resources:

Matt Mitchell verdict on the Thanksgiving 2007 crash

Struggling With North Carolina Workers’ Compensation: A Guide to Self Empathy

March 9, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Contrary to the stereotype of the average North Carolina workers’ compensation claimant as indolent and needy, most hurt and sick workers desperately want to get back to their jobs and produce and provide for their families. Unfortunately, when you go on benefits – even temporarily – you may find yourself subjected to negative messages not only from employers and co-workers but also from friends, family, and even yourself.

Finding internal resources to empathize with your pain can help you respond to critics and heal faster and better. Let’s look at some strategies to help you metabolize the toxic messages that you brew internally (or that you receive from outside sources) as you attempt to navigate the maze of North Carolina workers’ compensation and pull yourself back to health.

1. Use mindfulness meditation

For thousands of years, spiritual leaders from all religious traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, etc, have used meditation and prayer to absorb and metabolize negative thoughts. Essentially, the goal is to clear your mind of thoughts, using an object or focus. In one kind of Buddhist meditation, for instance, you sit and focus on the breath for an extended period of time – allowing thoughts, judgments, and feelings to “pass you by” as you engage in the exercise. The goal is not to relax – rather it’s to become alert to the present moment. By doing this over time, you develop a heartier emotional immune system and can thus deal with anger and frustration easier.

2. Take positive action

When you are on a workers’ comp – whether you are laid up and can’t move or hobbled by a bad knee – it’s easy to feel worthless. To combat those feelings, get engaged with something positive that’s going to push you towards some other big goal in your life. For instance, if you always wanted to become a master amateur chef, now might be the time to rent a bunch of instructional cooking videos (or get them for free online) and sharpen your culinary skills.

3. Understand your feelings and needs behind anxiety and agitation

The world is inert. People say things and do things, but our emotional reactions to them form in our own brains. When we really listen to what’s going on inside our head – essentially slow down our internal monologue – we can learn a lot about why we feel the way we do about certain comments and reactions. By studying our thinking, using, for instance, tools like Non-Violent Communication – which we discussed in another blog post – you can hopefully develop better self empathy.

4. Get a legal help, if you need it

A battle-proven North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can provide key legal resources.

More Web Resources:

About Self-Empathy

Non-Violent Communication

A Different Approach to Communicating Concerns about Your North Carolina Worker’s Compensation Benefits

March 7, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Most injured and sick workers who need to file for North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits describe themselves with words like “put upon,” “mistreated,” and so forth. A common theme is victimization. Larger, uncaring, powerful forces – such as employers, insurance companies, and even groups like the North Carolina Industrial Commission – either “have it out” for them personally or simply lack the compassion to give good care.

These feelings are totally understandable. Hurt workers often lack the resources, language and training to express their feelings and needs in a way that drives best results. This blog post will hopefully give you some ideas about how to approach your frustration with your North Carolina workers’ compensation issues more resourcefully.

Identifying Feelings and Needs

A PhD named Marshall Rosenberg developed an alternative way of communicating feelings and needs that he termed Non-Violent Communication, or (NVC). Don’t let the name fool you. When Dr. Rosenberg uses “non-violence,” he is not suggesting that we all become pushovers and let unfair employers walk all over us. Rather, he uses the term in the way that Gandhi intended it – as a more constructive, “win-win” a way of looking at the world. He suggests we view “negative” communications from others as “tragic expressions of unmet needs.” Essentially, when an employer mistreats you or misapprehends your claim, what he (or she) is really saying beneath the blame and contempt is something along the lines of “My needs for X are not getting met.” You use the NVC translation technique to tune into the employer’s feelings and needs and thereby get what you want faster and easier.

The NVC process is complex and extremely counterintuitive. You can learn more at the official website for Nonviolent Communications. But essentially the process involves four steps.

1. First, you identify an action in the real world and try to describe this action in objective language.

For instance, if an employer has not responded to your claim in 30-days, you don’t say “hey, you idiot, why haven’t you responded to my paper work??” You simply note the reality: “I submitted this claim 30-days ago, and I haven’t yet heard the response.”

2. The next step is describing how you feel.

This is your emotional reaction – don’t ascribe your emotions to the other person. Own them. In other words, you don’t want to say “you make me angry.” Rather, you want to say: “when I saw (observation) I felt (emotion, such as angry, frustrated, etc).”

3. Third, you identify your “unmet needs” that come up for you.

For instance, in our example, your unmet need might be for reassurance that your claim will be processed fairly and on time.

4. Lastly, you make an explicit request of the person using positive language – something that the person can do in real time.

For instance, you might ask your employer “will you please dispatch the paperwork within the next 2 days?”

There is a lot more to the NVC model, but this form of counterintuitive (and clunky at first) communication offers lots of interesting and exciting possibilities for open and resourceful engagement with others.

If you or someone you care about needs assistance with difficult employer conduct, a caring North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help.

More Web Resources:

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg

More on NVC

A Novel Way to Slash North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Costs?

March 2, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

The experts who audit, debate, and refine the North Carolina workers’ compensation system spend a tremendous amount of time identifying the system’s inefficiencies. To maximize efficacy and minimize drag on the system as a whole, experts aim to identify:

• how insurance companies might be overcharging employers;
• how employers might be inadequately training their workers;
• how workers might not be engaging in proper safety, rehabilitation, self-care;
• etc

In this blog post, we will explore a novel approach to improving the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. This approach involves improving communication across all elements of the system, so that the feelings and needs of relevant parties get heard more clearly.

First principles: it’s clear that the participants in the system often feel like they are in opposition with one another. Employers strive to “protect” themselves from high premiums and workers who inflate their disability claims. Employees, on the other hand, “fight for every penny” and stay on guard to make sure that their employers and insurers treat them fairly. Insurance companies, meanwhile, watch their bottom lines. And the state strives to ensure order and fairness in the system.

So most people see these forces in opposition. But there may be another way of looking at our problems – a way suggested by Marshall Rosenberg, creator of the idea of “Nonviolent Communication.” According to Rosenberg, most individuals communicate in a violent language that he’s termed “jackal.” Most people – and most institutions – spend a great deal of time analyzing, judging, and labeling others. In Marshall’s alternative paradigm – what he calls “Giraffe” talk – the goal is not to see parties in opposition but rather to see them as each having feelings and needs. Once these feelings and needs get surfaced, it’s easy to find so-called “win-win” solutions. In other words, an employer and her employee may believe that they stand in opposition. But maybe that’s just because the employee doesn’t understand his employer’s feelings and needs. And vice versa. If both parties could only spend some time talking in the “giraffe” idiom, perhaps they could understand each other better and work together to develop more effective solutions.

In an event, employees who need help with their benefits claims often get confused about how to deal with recalcitrant or uncooperative insurers, employers, and other parties. A consultation with a proven North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm may help you significantly.

More Web Resources:

Non-Violent Communication

Jackal vs. Giraffe