April 2011

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Community Looks to Raging Debate Out of Washington State

April 28, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Although this blog typically covers news germane to North Carolina workers’ compensation issues, those who report on benefits and entitlement issues have been riveted by an ongoing debate out of Washington state regarding how to reform WA’s workers comp system.

Here’s the latest news in the WA workers’ comp saga.

According to an April 20th AP article, eight moderate House Democrats have unveiled a proposal to change the Washington system. In 2010, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire — along with leaders from the state’s House and Senate — prioritized workers comp reform after evidence surfaced suggesting that the system was in danger of insolvency.

One of the “harder core” plans for reforming the system would have required major concessions from workers. Hurt and injured workers would have to take “lump sum” settlements in lieu of ongoing payouts. While business groups backed this measure, injured workers voiced concerns that the arrangement would leave many in a lurch; and workers who could not afford legal representation would be at risk for decreased protection.

The new “moderate” plan proposed would provide workers some protections. Essentially, it would thread the needle. Workers would get enhanced safeguards, and a study would be conducted in three years to assess how the plan is performing, both in terms of saving money and in terms of protecting workers rights. On the other hand, while settlements from medical claims would be eliminated, “the option for lump sum settlements would remain.”

One interesting factoid from the AP article: “About 85% of compensation costs come from only 8% of all claims.” It’s very likely that a similar breakdown occurs in the North Carolina workers’ compensation system.

The so-called Pareto Principle (also known as the “80-20 Rule”) suggests that, in a variety of natural systems, 80% of inputs yield 20% of the results and vice versa (20% of inputs yield 80% of the results). So, when you get a statistic that says something like “8% of workers’ comp beneficiaries drive 85% of all costs,”– yes, at first, it sounds alarming. But it really shouldn’t be. Distributions of wealth, water, commodities, and basically everything else in the world organically wind up lopsided. This is why a small fraction of the people in the United States – and indeed in every country of the world – owns the majority of the wealth. It’s not a sinister plan – it’s just the way that distributions tend to form.

Getting away from the abstract, if someone you care about needs help from a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm, don’t wait to get that assistance.

More Web Resources

WA workers’ comp proposal

WA Governor Chris Gregoire

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Blog Continues to Look to Other States for Fascinating News – This Time, Kansas!

April 26, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

This North Carolina workers’ compensation blog recently covered an amazing political dog fight out of Washington state. Today, we’re going to touch on something happening closer by – in Kansas. KS Governor Sam Brownback just signed a bill rewriting the state’s workers’ comp laws – these new laws will go into effect on May 15th. At a ceremony for the bill on April 18th, Brownback and the backers of this revamp – which passed both the Kansas Senate and House without opposition – celebrated the reforms as an effective compromise between the interests of labor and businesses.

Employers won a few key battles. It will now be more difficult for employees to get comp if they hurt themselves at work while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also, injured employers will not get benefits if they got hurt or sick prior to employment. This is obviously fair. If you hurt your hands working an assembly line job and then switched over to become a high school guidance counselor, it would make zero sense to hold your new school to account for the hard-labor-related damage to your hands.

Workers did get some concessions, however. The families of workers who die on the job will now receive $300,000.00 (instead of $250,000.00), and comp for permanent injuries will also rise.

How and when will the North Carolina workers’ compensation system be revamped?

Will all the reforming going on in places like Kansas and Washington impact local politics, even peripherally? Hard to say. But it’s clear that getting comp costs under control is a big priority. With budgets tightening and the national debt swelling, you can be sure that business leaders and politicos will be focusing more and more on how to save and cut corners. This is good, at least in the abstract.

The key is to make sure that hurt and injured workers rights stay protected – and that the systematic problems that are causing or exacerbating our budgetary crisis get addressed through rational policy and good science.

Do you or someone you care about need help from a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm? Even if you think you’ve got your benefits issues all under control, it may be useful to speak with experienced legal representatives.

More Web Resources:

KS Governor Sam Brownback

Kansas workers’ comp bill

Big North Carolina Workers’ Compensation News for Former NFLers

April 22, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

The Monday before last, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York issued a ruling that spurred intense discussion among North Carolina workers’ compensation experts and sports fans around the nation. Judge Paul Crotty issued an injunction requiring NFL owners and teams to stop “seeking to reduce the workers’ compensation benefits due to former NFL players as a result of injuries they suffered while playing the game.”

The NFL Players Association celebrated the legal victory – this battle between the NFLPA and the owners has been raging since 2005. Essentially, management wants to claim “dollar for dollar” offsets to workers’ comp awards paid out to men like Steve Arvy, David Alexander, Charles Smith, Michael Swift, and Dusty Renfro. The Players Association, on the other hand says that owners and teams should only be allowed “limited offsets.”

Although the NFLPA won a decisive arbitration ruling in 2007, the teams and owners essentially ignored this decision. Thus, the NFLPA leveled a lawsuit in 2008 to compel the owners to stop trying to wriggle out of their workers’ comp obligations. In 2009, the court ruled in favor of the NFLPA. But again the teams and owners proved recalcitrant. Let’s see what happens now that a federal judge has weighed in on the matter again on the side of the players.

When most people think of North Carolina workers’ compensation claimants, they picture injured, helpless, and perhaps weak and lazy people, struggling to collect from the state. Obviously, the NFL Players Association does not exactly team with “weak and lazy” individuals – it’s hard to imagine any individuals less weak and less lazy than NFL players.

But in this case, even the strongest and fittest of these players ran into serious problems trying to collect much needed (and legally obliged) compensation.

It’s hard enough to overcome negative stereotypes; it’s harder still to fight back against massive institutions, like insurance companies and corporations, while you are sick and struggling to make ends meet and recover from your injuries or illnesses.

Fortunately, there is a way to level the playing field. A North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can equip you with the resources, tools, and knowledge you need not only to compel recalcitrant parties (such as the company you work for or the insurance company handling your claim) to treat you fairly and justly, but also to find a strategic way to return to health and reduce some of the agitation and anxiety you’re currently feeling.

More Web Resources:

NFL Players Association celebrate their legal victory

Judge Paul Crotty’s injunction

What Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about North Carolina Workers’ Compensation

April 20, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Although Japan’s nuclear scientists and workers have managed to prevent a massive meltdown, many commentators – including high profile bloggers and pundits in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community and elsewhere – have practically torn out their hair worrying about the effects that radiation contamination might have on the people of beleaguered Japan.

Obviously, the three-tiered trauma that Japan recently endured – earthquake, tsunami, nuclear plant disaster – is intense and horrific, and the international community should be doing everything in its power to prevent further loss of life and help Japan out with the reconstruction.

All that said, are we worrying a bit too much about Japan’s nuclear plants? Recently, Fox decided to stop airing reruns of a famous Simpsons’ episode in which Homer and company face off against a nuclear disaster at the Springfield Nuclear Plant. The decision to pull the episode was blessed by former showrunner Al Jean – obviously, this was done out of desire to treat Japan with respect.

But is this a case of making a mountain out of a molehill? After all, the nuclear plants withstood colossal damage, and no meltdowns or severe radiation leaks (a la Chernobyl) are occurring or will occur, according to a variety of reliable sources – experts in nuclear physics.

Moreover, workers in other industries in Japan – railroad, automotive, industrial, et cetera — have no doubt suffered terribly during the clean up. We’re not saying that repairing a damaged nuclear plant is not dangerous. But workers laboring in these other industries – non-nuclear related – won’t likely elicit a rush of international sympathy when they come down with tuberculosis from stepping on rusty nails while cleaning up leveled landfills.

Truth be told, disaster recovery and repair is messy. It’s brutal, and it’s dangerous. And it’s our collective obligation to ensure that we neither “over blow” the dangers nor “under prepare” for them.

The bottom line is: injured and sick workers all need lots of help, good information, and sympathy and compassion. A focused North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you understand not only how to collect all the benefits that you should be owed but also how to maximize your use of those benefits to recover and get back to work at your earliest convenience.

More Web Resources:

Fox pulls Simpsons episode out of respect for Japan
Is danger to Japanese nuclear plant workers overblown?

Amazing North Carolina Workers' Compensation News – Pot Smoker Finally Gets Comp for Grizzly Bear Mauling Incident

April 13, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Last year, this North Carolina workers’ compensation blog reported one of the most astounding stories in recent workers’ comp history. The case involved Brock Hopkins, a man mauled by grizzly bears at a park in Montana (Great Bear Adventures). Hopkins was stoned on marijuana, when he fed the bear that mauled him. The Montana Supreme Court last Tuesday ruled that Hopkins should be entitled to workers’ comp from the park, despite acting “mindbogglingly stupid” that fateful day when the perturbed grizzly (“Red”) severely injured the toker.

Initially, Hopkins’ bid for compensation was denied. Russ Kilpatrick, the owner of Grizzly Great Bear Adventures, claimed that Hopkins was not an employee of the park – even though he did pay Hopkins a stipend. Kilpatrick also told the young man in no uncertain terms that he should NOT feed the bears.

Nevertheless, the Montana Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling in a unanimous decision – stating that grizzly bears are “equal opportunity maulers.” Thus, the fact that Hopkins was high on marijuana was not relevant. The court also found that Hopkins had been acting in the capacity of an employee of the park; ergo, he should get the compensation.

This case seems like a Scooby Doo adventure gone horribly wrong. But Hopkins’ claim to comp is not as absurd as some of his detractors have suggested.

North Carolina workers’ compensation is a “grand bargain” between employers and employees. The system evolved during the early 1900s to distinguished workers’ comp from lawsuit-related compensation. Injured workers gave up rights to sue in exchange for the right to be able to collect compensation without having to prove “fault.”

So, while Great Bear Adventures was not at fault in this case; since Hopkins was an “employee” of the park at the time of his mauling, he should get the compensation, despite his outrageously reckless behavior.

Most workers’ comp stories are not laughing matters. Many situations can be terrifically tragic, particularly for victims who suffer a double insult when an insurance company denies a rightful claim. Get help with your North Carolina workers’ compensation issues by connecting with a quality, experienced legal team to assert your rights and get the benefits you and your family need.

More Web Resources:

Great Bear Adventures

Kilpatrick also told the young man in no uncertain terms that he should NOT feed the bears

Ray of Hope for Montgomery Police Officer in New Ruling; North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Experts React

April 5, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Last year, the family of injured Montgomery Police Officer, David Brown, filed a lawsuit against the city of Montgomery to collect workers’ comp to pay for medical bills Officer Brown received during a tragic September 11th accident. Industry watchers — including many widely respective figures in North Carolina workers’ compensation — couldn’t help but reflect on the sequence of truly tragic accidents to befall the officer. Although this blog covered the accident and lawsuit, we’ll recap the details:

• On September 11, 2010, Brown got hired by a funeral home to work a funeral procession.
• A motorist slammed into his motorcycle during the procession, causing critical injuries.
• The ambulance that took Cooper Brown to the hospital overturned on I-65, hurting Brown even more.
• Brown suffered a double amputation, major burns, and brain injuries.
• He underwent dozens of surgeries to save his life and to correct some of the damage. He now owes $3,000 in co-payments and $1.5 million in medical/surgical bills.
• To top it off, the city of Montgomery initially denied his worker comp claim because Brown got hurt during “off duty” work for private company (the funeral home).
• Brown’s family sought workers’ comp anyway, since Brown had been in uniform as a police officer and had been using Montgomery Police Department equipment.
• Circuit Judge Tracy McCoey ruled in favor of Brown’s family last Tuesday – saying that Brown should get the workers’ comp.
• But… Mayor Todd Strange is prepared to fight the decision.
• More legal wrangling and national headlines will be sure to follow, as this story has touched a nerve not just here in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community but also elsewhere throughout the Southeast.

If you or a family number got hurt or sick at work, the last thing in the world you want to do is wrestle with your employer or deal with tedious bureaucracy or an uncaring insurance company.

Unfortunately, if you don’t fight for your rights actively, you can lose benefits that you should be entitled to. A North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can give you the guidance, professional support, and wherewithal to get the benefits you and your family require.

More Web Resources:

David Brown’s saga

Brown’s September 11th accident

3 Ways to Bankrupt the North Carolina Workers' Compensation System

April 3, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

A lot of what we discuss here on this blog pertains to constructive ideas for how to repair the North Carolina workers’ compensation system and help employers, employees, insurance companies, and the state understand one another’s positions and deal with problems like adults. But what if, instead of thinking constructively, we took the opposite tack for a minute – thought of ways to cause the North Carolina workers’ compensation system to spiral even MORE out of control?

Here are three ways to make everyone’s life harder and more frustrating…

1. Encourage employees to work harder and longer… and to spend WAY more time on the computer.

Could there be a better recipe for breaking the system than encouraging blue collar and white collars workers alike to spend more time online, more time on their cell phones and more time at the office? We’re clearly not “wired up” enough; so why not encourage our workers to spend more hours squinting at computer screens, staying late at the office, and generally working themselves to the bone? It will generate more revenue in the short term, right? And isn’t the short-term the only thing that counts?

2. Escalate ad hominem attacks and expand the “blame game.”

The last five or six years has seen the advent of an explosively close-minded political climate. Political figures and “average Joe’s” alike tend to find niche media that support their views. They only listen to the ideas and concerns of their in-group.

In other words… if you’re an insurance company, you’ll hang out with other people who like insurance companies. If you’re an employee, you’ll only listen to what other employees and labor groups say. If you’re a small business owner, you’ll only confab with small business owners.

Let’s make these distinctions clearer and shriller. Spread the blame around. Get louder and more political. Get more ad hominem. Even if this won’t directly skyrocket workers’ comp costs and cause the drag on the system, it will at least shred everyone’s temper and reduce the chance of compromise in the future.

3. Make things more complicated!

Let’s add more bureaucracy to the system. Longer wait times, more forms, more paperwork for employers, more paperwork for employees, more paperwork for insurance companies, and more paperwork for government bureaucrats.

Let’s make the rules and regulations governing NC workers’ comp more difficult to understand; and let’s change those rules at arbitrary intervals, so that no one has time or energy to catch up.

That ought to do it. That ought to seriously impede any progress we might be able to make towards making the system fair and more functional.

All snarkiness and kidding aside, if you’re caught up in the middle of a North Carolina workers’ compensation battle with a corporation, insurance company, or other entity, you may feel beleaguered and helpless. Fortunately, a variety of surprising resources may be available to help you get the benefits that you need and deserve. A high-quality North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can deliver results and vastly simplify your benefits-related crisis.

More Web Resources:

Time on the computer is costly

How to make things more complicated than they need to be