October 2011

Florida Workers’ Comp Rates to Raise: North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Analysts Evaluate Regional Fallout

October 29, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Last week, per the St. Petersburg Times, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced that the Sunshine state’s workers’ comp rates will be jacked up by nearly 9%, effective January 1, 2012. It’s a move that has many experts, analysts, and small business owners in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community mulling over the ramifications.

McCarty’s office rejected a proposal by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), stating that the methodology the NCCI used was faulty. He defended the fact that Florida will still have “the lowest workers’ comp rates among large states and the lowest rates in the southeast.” Prior to the changes in FLs workers’ comp laws back in 2003, the Sunshine state “consistently had one of the country’s highest workers’ compensation rates.”

Not surprisingly, Florida’s Director of the National Federation of Independent Business was less than pleased, calling the 8.9% hike “a very substantial increase in the cost of labor over the course of two very difficult years for small employers.”

So what can we make of this rate hike, especially in light of this year’s reforms to North Carolina workers’ compensation laws? Do they indicate a regional trend? Will the subtle changes in Florida and North Carolina rules and regulations impact the flow of business across the region? If so, how? How can one accurately measure this impact, if it exists at all?

These questions are obviously theoretical, but answering them is vital if we want to ensure fairness for hurt and injured workers and help small businesses in the region position themselves for growth, flexibility, and opportunity.

Finding the “perfect rate” for workers’ compensation is a balancing act that never ends.

The sheer diversity and number of variables involved would blow the circuits of even the world’s biggest super computer. That’s why it’s important to test and reassess how changes like the ones in North Carolina and Florida impact businesses, insurance companies and even the relative “joie de vivre” of the workers’ themselves.

For more specific, grounded help with a workers’ comp question, connect with an experienced, highly respected North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm for a free consultation.

More Web Resources:

Florida workers’ comp rates to rise 8.9%

The National Federation of Independent Business official website

“It’s Weird to be Back”: Returning to the Office after North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Leave

October 27, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

In the struggle to obtain North Carolina workers’ compensation, hurt and injured workers often think only one or two steps ahead.

So let’s think four or five steps ahead today.

What will happen once you recover from your injury or illness and return to work? What might the environment be like at work? What challenges might you face in terms of re-acclimating? What should you do if and when co-workers or superiors want to discuss your time off or even challenge whether or not you needed or deserved workers’ comp benefits in the first place?

These questions are all quite complicated to answer. But it is worth discussing strategies for how to avoid “weirdness” after you return to the office. Here are some suggestions:

• Prepare a spiel in advance to answer basic questions about why you went on workers’ comp, what it was like, and how you recovered and got back to work. This might sound silly, but you may want to actually practice this spiel at home with a spouse or a friend. This way, you will have a quick, snappy answer that will ward off unwanted questions and staunch nosey gossip.

• Don’t expect to “normalize” everything on day one. Expect that there will be an adjustment period. Even if you did not go on an extensive North Carolina workers’ compensation leave, and you never had to fight with your employer over your treatment, it’s totally normal to feel disoriented and a bit out of sorts during your first days and weeks back on the job. So provide yourself a break.

• Understand what you can and cannot say about your workers’ compensation agreement. This is critical. Depending on the terms of the settlement, you may not want to disclose certain aspects of your care or talk about the terms with co-workers or superiors. Consult with your North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm before returning to your job to make sure you understand the do’s and don’ts.

• If it’s too weird for you to stay at your job, even after you’ve spent some time and energy and resources trying to re-acclimate, consider switching companies or even changing careers. Understand your skill set, needs, and utility, and recognize that you are never “stuck” at your job. You can always harness new ways of thinking, outside resources, and vocational training to “begin again” or make lateral career moves.

More Web Resources:

Returning to work after a long absence

How to tell if your co-workers are jealous

Should Your Pet be Entitled to North Carolinas Workers’ Compensation?

October 19, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Current law allows only human workers to collect benefits through the North Carolina workers’ compensation system. And perhaps that is fair and just. After all, although our nation’s cats, dogs, hamsters and fish take a fair amount of abuse – especially from curious toddlers – most of these furry friends (or scaly friends or feathered friends or what have you) do not get hurt while actively engaged productive labor.

However, there are exceptions. For instance:

• Firehouse dogs.

What happens to an adorable spotted Dalmatian who tags along with his fire crew and then one day gets caught in a ladder during a rescue operation and loses the ability to wag that adorable little tail forever more?

• Bomb and drug sniffing dogs.

These highly trained pooches spend their time identifying booby traps, drug mules, nefarious packages, and the like. They can easily find themselves in work-related situations that lead to injury. For instance, one can only speculate on the fate of a bomb sniffing dog who identifies a ticking piece of luggage “too late” to do anything about the “ticking.”

• Show tigers.

Most Americans are familiar with the horrific big cat attack that ended the long renowned Vegas act of Siegfried and Roy. While most news analyses of the Siegfried and Roy disaster focused on the agony the trainer endured, one can imagine that the big cat also suffered in the incident. If so, should the cat be entitled to compensation for the injuries and trauma he suffered on the job?

Of course, this post is meant to be facetious. It is not meant to belittle the cause of North Carolina Workers’ Compensation. And animals hurt “in the line of duty” often do have terrific care options at their disposal, including money for bills and the like.

On the flip side, hurt workers are often treated in “less than humane” ways by employers, insurance companies, and the workers’ comp bureaucracy.

Workers’ comp, philosophically at least, is about much more than dry issues like monetary compensation and regulations. It’s about fundamental human rights.

For help with a specific legal question, connect with a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

What happens to a firedog injured on the job?

The Siegfried and Roy Disaster

When the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Money Runs Out…

October 17, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Maybe you’ve been on North Carolina Workers’ Compensation for months or years as you work feverishly to heal your life, your finances, your body, and your stamina. Or maybe you are only exploring workers’ comp options. At some point, most likely, you will have to face the “end of the line” as far as your benefits are concerned.

Whether you consider this “fair” or not – whether you have legal means to fight the end of your benefits or not – you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle, budgeting, and possibly career path to accommodate the transition. Make no mistake: the transition can be quite difficult. You’ve gotten used to a certain way of living, a certain way of thinking about your income, and certain habits and expectations. Even if you’ve known that the “dry up” was coming for months or years, you can only prepare so much in the abstract.

When the reality hits – when you stop getting checks — you must make due with far less money. You may panic and potentially even make bad or dangerous decisions that can imperil your body, your recovery, or worse. Indeed, financial panic often drives uninformed, desperate people to commit crimes like North Carolina Workers’ Compensation fraud – crimes that can be prosecuted as felonies and lead to substantial prison time as well as the catastrophic destruction of your professional life.

The process of weaning yourself off benefits does not have to be agonizing, however. The more planning you can do, the better. And don’t simply focus on “planning your finances.” Focus on the psychological preparation. Understand that you will need some time to adjust to your new reality and to accommodate for the stresses of the transition. Maybe set aside some “special treats” for yourself during the transition. For instance, plan an inexpensive vacation (e.g. camping trips in the woods or meditation retreat) or spend some time with your family or close friends – a so-called “staycation.” Or give yourself permission to indulge in a treat, like a fun meal out, or fancy new gadgets from Apple or your other favorite tech product purveyor. (Obviously, don’t spend beyond your means when you get these “treats”.)

All that said, the doom and gloom you are feeling maybe a bit premature. Investigate your resources by connecting with a compassionate, skilled and thorough North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

After Your Benefits “Dry Up”

Transitioning to Life with a Reduced Income Stream

Curious Case Out of Virginia May Have Bearing for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation

October 12, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

The Washington Times has reported on a relatively minor workers’ comp case in Virginia that may ultimately have bearing – perhaps substantial bearing – on North Carolina workers’ compensation law.

Why would a struggle over a mere $4,000 workers’ comp award have national implications?

Simply put, because the case pertains to whether professionals injured in cell phone related automobile accidents should be reimbursed by workers’ comp. The debate is controversial, emotionally charged, and interesting. Before we examine the broader implications, let’s take a look at the specifics of this case.

Donna Turpin was a hospice nurse on call late one night in November 2009, when she received a call on her cell phone, which was tucked into her uniform. Distracted by the call, Ms. Turpin drove off the road and hit an embankment. She suffered some injuries and damage to her vehicle, but it was otherwise a minor incident.

Should Ms. Turpin be entitled to workers’ comp, since her employer knew to contact her via her cell phone if the employer-provided pager did not work? According to testimony, she had responded to 12 pages or calls earlier that same day. Ms. Turpin testified that she was “programmed” to tune into her beeper and cell phone to answer medical or hospice emergencies. Did it matter whether the message was work related or not? The judge decided that, in this case, it did not.

However, the judge’s ruling had some nuance: “the mere possibility that a call on a cell phone might originate from an employer does not make any injury that occurs while the employee attempts to respond to the call, or received call, one that arises out of employment.”

So what are the broader implications? The Washington Times report suggests that the unpublished opinion “could contribute to debates in cases involving doctors, reporters, food delivery drivers, and others whose work is tied to urgent cell phone calls.”

No doubt, in the following years, we will see a spate of circumstances similar to Ms. Turpin’s. In this case, the costs were low. Ms. Turpin only asked for $4,000 to treat her whiplash and pay for an ambulance and an emergency room visit. Fortunately, she returned to work that very weekend. But what might happen if and when a worker stops to answer a cell phone or pager and causes a catastrophic accident – perhaps one with fatalities – and seeks damages on the order of six or seven figures? We will likely see bigger headlines then, and the implications could stir up even more debate in the blogosphere.

The takeaway is that hurt workers need to examine and understand their legal rights. A North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you make sense of what happened to you and determine how and whether to pursue a case against an insurer or other entity.

More Web Resources:

Workers’ Comp Case Upheld in Cell Phone Related Crash

Nurse Injured While Glancing at Cell Phone Due Workers’ Comp

Felony Charges for Stealing Less Than $4,000 – A Cautionary Tale for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Beneficiaries

October 10, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Few people dream of committing North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud. But the temptation to “cheat” on your paperwork and collect a little more than you might be legally entitled to can lead to life-changing disasters.

Witness the fate of 31-year-old Patrick Rosenzweig, a New Yorker charged on October 6 with attempting to defraud The New York State Insurance Fund out of $3,973.24. According to a report in a local newspaper, The Wayne Post, “[Rosenzweig] was charged with workers’ compensation fraud, making a fraudulent statement in workers’ compensation insurance applications, offering a false instrument for filing the paperwork and grand larceny.”

Rosenzweig now faces a smattering of felony charges. If convicted of any of them, he could face over a year in jail… all for trying to obtain workers’ comp while he was still working.

What can the Rosenzweig ordeal teach us? First of all, note the cost benefit analysis. Assuming he had gotten away with this alleged scam, he would have collected an extra $4,000. But he didn’t, and he now faces huge fines and possibly significant time behind bars. Assuming he ordinarily made something along the lines of $60,000 a year, and he gets three years of jail for the felonies, he will be out close to $200,000 for committing a crime that would have only netted him around $4,000.

All this is to say that North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud does not pay off.

That being said, one can still be sympathetic and compassionate here. Hurt workers often lack the job training, skills, and resources to make ends meet. If you are a mother of two who got hurt at work – not badly enough to receive workers’ comp, but badly enough to struggle with day-to-day activities – you might be tempted to break the law and lie on your paperwork. The impulse comes from a place of wanting good help. Instead of making reckless, illegal decisions, however, make responsible choices.

For instance, connect with a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm to review your options for getting more compensation or to find other resources to make ends meet.

More Web Resources:

Canandaigua Man Charged with Workers’ Comp Fraud

Making the Most Out of Your Reduced Income

Small Scale Crime Has Implications for North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Fraud Prevention

October 5, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

What can be done to reduce or even eliminate North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud?

To solve this dilemma, we need to look beyond our state’s borders and pick apart relevant news stories, data, analyses, and arguments compiled by experts. It’s all well and good to theorize about different methods to deal with, manage, or punish North Carolina workers’ compensation fraud. It’s another story altogether to operate in the “real world” and get good results.

Even “small scale” cases of fraud can yield surprisingly relevant and far-reaching lessons, if we understand how to appreciate these stories in context. Consider a small bore story about workers’ comp fraud in Des Moines, Iowa. As the AP reported on September 23, the president of DES Staffing, Dinesh Sethi, plead guilty last week to wire fraud: “He acknowledged that he participated in a scheme to defraud Travelers Insurance and Liberty Mutual between 2006 and 2009 by giving the insurers’ false information to calculate the firm’s premiums…he and his Director of Finance shifted payroll from high-premium job classification codes to lower-premium codes such as clerical workers.”

Per the plea arrangement, Sethi’s five other charges have been dropped, and prosecutors will not go after either his company or his family. He will face sentencing at the end of December.

So is it really possible for us to extrapolate from this small case and learn more widely applicable lessons?

Maybe so.

Here are three lessons:

Lesson number one: Outsized punishments can affect criminals who commit even small, technical crimes.

In the grand scheme of things, Sethi’s wrongdoings (or alleged wrongdoings) are relatively tame, if you measure them against other criminal acts, like felony murder, vehicular manslaughter while DUI, and massive multimillion-dollar Medicare schemes. But he could still face jail time and other career-ending punishments for what he did.

Lesson Number Two: Schemes can go on for a while before the authorities step in, but con artists are never safe.

According to the AP article, Dinesh and his finance director perpetrated fraud for approximately four years before getting busted. The long arm of the law, however, finally caught up.

Lesson Number Three: It’s almost always worth the time and effort to ensure you are operating fairly, ethically, and legally.

Many people who commit fraud do so inadvertently, or at least without knowledge of the consequences. A sick mother on workers’ comp leave, for instance, may take a second job to try to earn a little extra money for her family, oblivious to the fact that taking the second job violates her workers’ comp arrangement.

To protect your rights and ensure that you stay within the bounds of the law, always consult with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More web resources:

Des Moines exec pleads guilty to insurance fraud

Ankeny man pleads guilty to insurance fraud

Are Manufacturers Celebrating June Changes to North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law?

October 3, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

According to a recent article in the Charlotte Business Journal, business leaders throughout the state are still in a state of giddy glee regarding recent changes to North Carolina workers’ compensation law. According to the President of North Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce, Lew Ebert, the reforms – the first such changes to the law in 17 years – have helped make the state more competitive. Ebert and other business leaders long complained that North Carolina had gotten “behind” other states in terms of their workers’ comp laws.

They pointed out that our state’s injury rate is one of the lowest in the United States; whereas the average cost per North Carolina workers’ compensation claim was pretty high at $42,000. According to the Charlotte Business Journal, the changes in the law will also influence insurance premiums for businesses, thus helping them stay competitive. Lat Williams, a marketing vice president based in Charlotte, told the Business Journal: “North Carolina is probably B or C” but thanks to the changes, the state “will probably upgrade to B, and it might even go up to A.”

Manufacturers also see other “wins” including:

• The size of the North Carolina industrial commission has been shrunk;
• The reforms allow certain employers to more easily communicate with employee physicians and give workers temporary, light-duty jobs.

Lawmakers designed the law, ideally, to help both employers and employees. For instance, the Charlotte Business Journal article details one provision that, at least in theory, might help both workers and employers: “Workers on light duty will still earn as much as if they were on workers’ comp, or up to two-thirds of their previous salary. If the new job pays less, workers’ comp makes up the difference.”

So is it all a win-win? Manufacturers and employers win as well as workers?

At this point, it’s too early to tell. From a worker’s perspective, the final compromised bill passed in June was certainly better than the original draft proposed – the earlier drafts were tilted even more towards industry.

But if you need assistance with a claim or a possible claim, you don’t have to deal with your situation in a vacuum. A qualified, competent, experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you figure out your next steps.

More web resources:

How changes in workers’ comp will affect NC manufacturers

An overview of the new NC workers’ compensation laws