January 2013

Looming North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Study Sparks Concern among Labor Leaders

January 31, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

It’s not often that a North Carolina workers’ compensation study becomes a lightning rod for political controversy.

But we live in unusual times.

In December, NC state lawmakers established a nine member commission of state legislators (made up of almost all Republicans) to study North Carolina workers’ compensation. The commission will release a report in February — a document that could have profound implications for the nearly 90,000 state employees of the Old North State.

Some union leaders and their advocates are concerned about how this study will be conducted. Specifically, they fret that it will fail to take into account workers’ positions.

An organizer for the NC’s Public Service Workers’ Union, UE Local 150, Dante Strobino, told a local paper “they [the legislators] could fast track the study and give us even less time for worker and public input. Or they could just scrap it altogether and make whatever cuts they want based on purely ideological arguments.”

North Carolina has banned collective bargaining for public workers — it’s only one of two states in the entire union to do so — so unions believe that they are particularly disempowered here. Workers worry that legislators will cut off so called longevity pay for state workers; change retirement and healthcare benefits; and even write a ban on collective bargaining into the state’s constitution.

Workers’ advocates also fear any changes that might make public sector work appear more distasteful. Talented people might opt out of government careers and flee to the private sector. This brain drain could then stimulate leadership crises among the ranks of public workers.

It’s hard to separate truth from facts, especially when it comes to heated issues, like North Carolina workers’ compensation reform. Advocates on both sides tend to approach the topic from an ideological point of view. So we often reach a point of gridlock. Name-calling and fear mongering rule.

That’s obviously not so great.

We cannot square the circle regarding how this study should be done.

But if you’re a worker – or a friend or loved one of a worker – who has been struggling with an injury or illness, we can help you. We at the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo are renowned for winning complex and difficult workers’ comp cases. We can provide a free, thorough, confidential consultation. Don’t wait another day to get answers to the stuff that’s been confusing you: call our team now.

Worst Case Scenario North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Case: Man Whose Feet Were Smashed in a Roofing Accident Gets Only $75 out of $70,000 Owed!

January 29, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

This is one of those North Carolina workers’ compensation cases that boils your blood and makes you want to stop whatever you’re doing and rededicate your life to reforming the system.

The case concerns the fate of a man named John Ashworth, who worked for Statewide Roofing in Franklin County. In 2008, Ashworth fell off a roof and shattered both feet. His boss, Robert Wayne House, lacked North Carolina workers’ compensation insurance — a sadly not uncommon turn of events these days. As the Charlotte News & Observer exposed last year, tens of thousands of businesses in North Carolina have been (and still are) failing to meet their workers’ comp insurance obligations.

In any event, House owes Ashworth over $70,000 in lost wages. He also owes another hurt worker over $100,000.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission has pressured House to pay off his debts. But, so far, he has paid just $75 to Ashworth. The 53-year-old calls that pittance payment “not even worth my time” and says he spent nearly a third of that money ($25) just on parking and gas while traveling to his hearings out in Raleigh.

For now, the injured roofer gets by on Medicaid, Social Security Disability payments and food stamps. But Ashworth and others fume about the lack of safety net for hurt workers whose employers lack insurance.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission is well aware of the problem.

Over the past few years, the NCIC has heard from around 500 hurt workers (annually!) whose situations “rhyme” with Ashworth’s. The NCIC can award payments. But ensuring that those compulsory payments actually get paid can be an onerous, if not impossible, chore.

When the News & Observer broke the big story last year — that 30,000 plus employers lacked workers’ comp insurance — the NCIC did act, somewhat. It threatened several employers with prison time and massive penalties if they failed to remunerate injured workers. This prompted some employers to pay, but some analysts believe that this process is akin to trying to get blood from a stone.

Many employers, including House, Ashworth’s old boss, are broke themselves. They have no means to provide the funds. That means that Ashworth and others must rely on complicated and frustratingly inconsistent strategies to pay bills and simply survive.

If you or someone you care about has been hurt in a North Carolina workplace, maybe you’re missing out on surprising strategies and legal options that you can leverage to get better results. Call or email the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo right now to schedule a free case evaluation.

NC DOL Celebrates Drop in North Carolina Workplace Fatalities: Are We Seeing a Good Trend or Just a Statistical Blip?

January 24, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

The North Carolina Department of Labor just released some exciting stats: workplace fatalities in North Carolina plummeted by 34% in 2012.

53 people died in NC workplace accidents in 2011; only 35 workers died on the job in 2012. The Occupational Safety & Health Division of the Labor Department tried to drive this number down by working proactively with companies in hazardous industries to stop deaths related to heat stress, struck-bys, forklifts, and firefighter accidents.

The director of the OSH Division, Allen McNeely, said that “we have increased our reach to employers and employees with hazard alerts, industry guides and posters, as well as focused training.”

More good news: the injury/illness rate for North Carolina businesses remains low. Only 3 out of every 100 full time employers fall seriously ill or sick at work. Most of these injuries/illnesses cluster in just a few industries, including construction, agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing. Common causes of workplace death in North Carolina include electrocution, falls, getting caught in between objects, and getting struck by objects.

A decrease of 34% should be celebrated, and hats off to OSH for taking workplace safety issues do doggedly. As we’ve advocating for years on this North Carolina workers’ compensation blog, all the stakeholders in our system — healthcare providers, employers, employees, law firms, insurance companies, government workers, the lay public — need to work together to come up with solutions and to share knowledge. These numbers suggest that we’re, in some sense, moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, we need to be careful to avoid celebrating prematurely.

A drop of 34% in the fatality rate sounds great. But 35 deaths is still 35 deaths, and we would ideally like that number to drop down to zero. Furthermore, we could just be witnessing statistical noise. Yes, the OSH division may have done good work. But did the work cause this fluctuation, or did the statistics just fluctuate due to the random nature of complex systems?

Here’s a positive sign: the injury/illness rate has stayed super low — around 3.1 — for three years in a row. This indicates that we may be (potentially!) seeing a real trend. But we need to proceed with caution to avoid over interpreting the statistics.

If you or a family member was recently hurt in a North Carolina workplace accident, get in touch with the DeMayo Law team today to understand what you can do to shield your rights and get the maximum benefits available to you under the law.

A North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Success Story

January 22, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

In a recent piece on the state of the North Carolina workers’ compensation system, we reviewed the story of Raleigh resident John Ashworth, who suffered career ending injuries to his feet in 2008, when he fell off a roof. Ever since, he’s been battling his ex-employer to collect $70,000 in lost wages. His old boss, Robert House, didn’t have workers’ comp insurance; to date, he’s only paid Ashworth $75.

House claims that he is broke and out of business. Not an uncommon situation.

Last April, the Raleigh News & Observer revealed, in a shocking expose, the 30,000+ state employers lacked adequate workers’ comp coverage.

Critics say that the North Carolina Industrial Commission has been anemic — unable to punish and wrangle employers effectively. Our state lacks a systematic way to deal with these kinds of cases fairly and quickly.

Silver linings do exist, however.

Consider the happier story of Frank E. Boykin, who suffered a brain injury four years ago and lost muscle function, short term memory, and other medical problems. Boykin fell behind on his child support and even landed in jail once because he lacked money to provide his teenage child.

Boykin’s old boss, Andy Salvatore of Smithfield Auto Center, had refused to pay the $120,000+ he owed to the injured man. Eventually, after much heel-dragging, the NCIC acted, and officials arrested Salvatore for failing to appear at an NCIC hearing. The legal action prompted Salvatore to settle Boykin’s claim and provide him $1,000 a month as well as $100,000 in medical bills.

In a conciliatory spirit, an NC Deputy Attorney General told the boss that he would be spared $100,000+ in penalties (for not carrying North Carolina workers’ compensation insurance) if he made good on his arrangement with Boykin.

Meanwhile, advocates for hurt/injured workers in the Old North State want more systematic approach to cases like Boykin’s and Ashworth’s. Perhaps we need to follow the lead of South Carolina, which has a far more robust set of mechanisms for punishing employers who don’t pay claims and also draws on a special state fund that collects $18 million a year for people like Ashworth and Boykin.

Do you need help understanding your rights and potential remedies under North Carolina law? The DeMayo Law team can help. Talk to one of our friendly associates today, and set up a free consultation with us to explore what you might be able to do.

Are You Too Proud to Get Help for Your Charlotte Workplace Injury?

January 17, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

As a bread winner and hard working individual, you hate your Charlotte workplace injury for at least two reasons.

#1: The injury has caused you much physical suffering.

Whether you sniffed a lung full of particulate matter at a Raleigh machining plant or ruined your hands and wrists typing up a never ending series of white papers for your boss, you’re wracked with so much physical agony that it’s difficult for you even to surf the web.

#2. The injury has rendered you powerless to do what you once could do effortlessly.

You need to put food on your table. You need to engage in productive labor. You want to look strong to your co-workers and to your family. You want to provide useful services to your community. But your injuries have rendered you incapable of performing like you used to be able to perform, and that really stings, badly.

Unfortunately, one of the most diabolical, destructive myths about North Carolina workers’ compensation beneficiaries is that hurt workers are “lazy” or “just want to sit on the couch and collect checks.” Sure, some people abuse the system. But such cases are few and far between.

Your situation is much more common. Most hurt workers are eager to go to work. Often, this zeal gets them in trouble. They ignore serious signs that they need to stop or at least to cut back. Their pride-induced workaholism aggravates their injuries or even leads to new ones. Today’s mild carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to tomorrow’s full body thoracic outlet syndrome. Today’s sprained ankle or twisted knee can pave the way for a serious injury fall, and a broken back.

Don’t let your pride in what you do — and in who you are — hold you back from getting effective counsel and help. The team here at the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo is passionate about representing people like you — people who want to do good work for their community and get their lives back on track. We can help you make smarter, more effective decisions about your injury. Call or email us now to set up a free case consultation.

After Your Charlotte Workplace Injury — Co-Workers Mean and Unsupportive?

January 15, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

If you suffered a Charlotte workplace injury — a fall on a construction site, a burn at a chemical lab, or a typing accident at a Research Triangle area bank, e.g. — you may be in for a rude awakening.  Your co-workers may not fully support your claim… or may even actively side with management to undermine your quest for fair compensation.

It can be a hard blow.

Why does this happen? Reasons abound:

•    Especially if you work in a “blue collar” industry — like house painting, construction, manufacturing, delivery — you need to stay strong and tough. Weakness of any sort is not permitted.
•    Many workplace cultures are almost cult-like, so co-workers may be loathe to challenge leadership.
•    Workers are also scared for their own health and livelihood — so they may say or do hurtful things to you to protect their own ambitions, pay checks, and bodies.
•    In some extreme cases, co-workers can even outright lie or fudge facts to impede your claim. This may happen if a co-worker caused or exacerbated your on-the-job injury. For instance, perhaps you’re a construction worker who fell off a temporary mooring, when the guy assigned to stabilize the base went on an inopportune coffee break. He may deny responsibility because he wants to avoid getting fired or reprimanded.

So what’s the solution?

The first part of your solution is to seek effective legal representation, as soon as possible after your accident. The Charlotte workplace injury team at the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo can provide a free, fair, and detailed consultation about your case and help you find the clearest path to get compensation. Dealing with a betrayal — or even a cold shoulder from a supposed friend — can be quite challenging, and there may not be a “quick fix” for it. Just recognize that, if you’ve experienced the sting of uncooperative co-workers, you’re not alone, and help is available. Talk to the team at DeMayo Law now to get effective, robust guidance.

Building a Safer 2013: Ideas for Reducing Workplace Injuries in North Carolina and Beyond

January 10, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

Workplace injuries in Charlotte create a catastrophic domino effect.

Here’s an example of how this “bad luck domino” sequence might evolve:

Betty, a 45-year old bank executive, suffers a surge of pain in her arms and wrists, after typing out a contract in her office in the Research Triangle. She goes to the doctor, who diagnoses her with carpal tunnel syndrome. She begins massage therapy, cortisol injections, and other treatments, but the process fails to relieve her pain. Within several weeks, she is too incapacitated to move, and she must take time off of work.

Betty seeks workers’ compensation benefits, but her employer fights her tooth and nail. The legal battle drags in dozens of parties and several law firms. When all is said and done, Betty’s case of carpal tunnel syndrome drains millions of dollars of productivity from the economy. Meanwhile, the case consumes court time, which can create a backlog, which in turn forces other workers’ comp plaintiffs to wait; the waiting exacerbates their injuries and extends their recuperating time; and so on and so forth. A bad domino effect.

If we could collectively find ways to deal with the “front end” of Helen’s cascade, then everyone involved in the North Carolina workers’ compensation system would win — law firms, insurance companies, businesses, the state, and most importantly, hurt/sick employees.

The big question is: HOW can we reduce the number of serious injuries and keep that number headed south, in perpetuity?

Policymakers obviously want to help and protect hurt workers. However, few people understand the need to think through this goal systematically. We should not simply strive to reduce the number of workers’ hurt in North Carolina. We should build and refine systems to reduce injuries. That’s a subtle but important difference. It’s the difference between striving to win the lottery and striving to build a successful business.

To build a great system to thwart workplace injuries, we must measure results, test strategies, get feedback from honest and diverse perspectives, and iterate. In an ideal world, insurance companies, the state, attorneys, employees, employers, and occupational safety experts would collaborate to try to find efficiencies.

For instance, let’s just say that carpal tunnel syndrome is a big problem — a major cause of workers’ comp claims. And let’s also say that data suggest that CTS cases could be cut by 30%, if employees had to take 5 minute breaks for every 30 minutes worked. Those are all arbitrary, made-up numbers. But let’s assume them for this thought experiment. Now, imagine if we used those numbers to create statewide “anti-carpal tunnel syndrome” workplace policy. And imagine if it worked. Not only would we reduce CTS cases by 30%, but we’d reverse the whole “bad domino effect” we discussed!

For help understanding your rights and remedies regarding your North Carolina workers’ compensation case, get in touch with the DeMayo Law team today.

Take Ownership of Your North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Case

January 8, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

Whether you’re the spouse of someone hurt at a construction site in Charlotte, or you threw out your back lifting a heavy crate at your Research Triangle office, your life feels chaotic and confusing. You want to take back control and ownership over your legal fate.

This instinct can be useful, but it can also backfire, if you’re not careful.

Even if your case appears fairly cut and dry, you still should probably get in touch with a seasoned, insightful North Carolina workers’ compensation firm. Odds are, you are not a lawyer with expertise in this area. Minor, seemingly trivial mistakes that you make during the first few days and weeks after your injury can come back to destroy your claim… or create an unnecessary series of legal headaches.

Here’s the reality: human beings are flexible thinkers. But we need a strong knowledge base to develop intuitions that are trustworthy. Albert Einstein, for instance, was clearly an “out-of-the-box” thinker. But he spent years studying physics, pouring over Maxwell’s equations, etc, before he developed the theory of relativity.

Workers’ compensation law may not be the same thing as advanced theoretical physics. But the analogy is not wholly unsound! If you don’t understand how to create, investigate, develop, and execute your case, the odds of your “figuring it out on the fly” are slim to none. The team here at the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo succeeds so often because we understand the process.

There’s always an elements of chance with every case. But what we do is not guess work. We follow a system that we’ve honed, refined, and optimized over years to get superior results for our clients. Whether you choose our firm or a different law firm, acknowledge your knowledge limitations. Find trustworthy people to help you deal with your workers’ comp situation.

Save your focus for the stuff that you know how to do — and the stuff that you absolutely must control — such as your health, your diet, and your relationships.

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: Reading Real Life North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Success Stories

January 3, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

On this North Carolina workers’ compensation blog, we speak a lot in the abstract about tactics and techniques potential beneficiaries can use to succeed: to bring back a sense of order; to compel insurance companies and recalcitrant bosses to play fairly; to develop better behaviors to handle the diverse problems caused by injury/illness.

However, you may wish to supplement this information with “lessons from the real world.”

What have other workers’ comp beneficiaries in North Carolina done to identify their hurdles, overcome their obstacles, and gain financial stability and clarity? You don’t need to guess at these answers! You can find loads of success stories for free on the Internet.

You will be stimulated by the “blow-by-blow” stories of those who have overcome similar challenges, but you do need to be careful. Not all the stories you’ll read will be “legit.” Moreover, what works for one person in a similar situation might not work for you. Intangible factors about your case or injury could create new issues… and even new opportunities.

Reading success stories can help you motivate to get out of a slump, enjoy empathy (only a very few who’ve never been through the workers’ comp rigmarole understand what the process feels like), and find curious resources to help with various aspects of the journey.

Nevertheless, you really need to take great care. Following bad or inept advice can make your situation infinitely worse and potentially destroy and otherwise sound case. The “medical guidance” of a random yahoo should never substitute for the advice of an experienced, licensed physician. Likewise, you can’t “substitute around” what a focused workers’ compensation law firm, like DeMayo Law, can do for you, even if your case seems simple right now.

The bottom line: too many hurt workers find themselves isolated, alone, and bereft of critical empathy. Even though your family members and colleagues may nominally offer support, they may not be able to appreciate what you’re going through. So dedicate some time to connect with others who have successfully emerged from similar crises.

For help understanding your legal rights and potential tools, get in touch with the DeMayo Law team now for a consultation.

What If You Obtain Some Workers’ Compensation Benefits… But Less Than You Want?

January 1, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

The quest for North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits is often sold as a binary proposition. Either you WILL get benefits, or you won’t.

Either you will obtain zero money to pay for your medical bills, surgery, and time off work; or you will obtain more than enough to meet those needs and then some.

Reality check: many Charlotte workers’ compensation cases wind up in compromise.

You might win some benefits — some money from the insurance company, e.g. — but not get everything you want or need.

On one hand, “half a loaf is better than none.” If you win only $300 a week in workers’ comp benefits, that’s still $300 a week more than $0 a week. You can still leverage the money to pay key bills and stay financially afloat.

On the other hand, a “half a loaf” resolution can feel like a Pyrrhic victory. You could

Framing the results of your North Carolina workers’ compensation case:

Pay attention! The following concept can give you critical leverage, whether you emerge from your workers’ comp quest empty handed, full-pursed or somewhere in between.

Will you be a “Larry David” about the results and see the glass as “ half empty”?

Or will you be an optimist and see the glass as “half full”?

The way you FRAME your results can have a profound, lasting effect on your degree of satisfaction. The good news is that you can control how you think about the situation. The bad news is that learning how to access that control is neither intuitive, nor simple. If it were simple to be an optimist, then the world would house far fewer cynics.

Becoming an optimistic does not mean ignoring reality; closing your eyes to real problems; and gambling despite dire odds.

If you commit to “being more sunshine minded,” you won’t change your attitude in days or weeks. Only slow, purposeful progress, when diligently pursued, will transform your pessimism.

Incremental progress adds up. If you drove 50 mph up a barely perceptible 6% incline on a theoretical highway that just climbed and climbed, within two hours, you’d be at an elevation equivalent to the top of Mount Everest!

Small differences in your attitude, when aggregated and persistently pursued, can change the way you think about your North Carolina benefits and leave you feeling more satisfied and in control of your life.

So start thinking positively, and get 2013 off to a great start. Connect with the DeMayo Law team now for a free consultation about your workers’ comp case.