Mass Overhaul to North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Laws Passes the House

June 9, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Last week, the North Carolina house passed significant North Carolina workers’ compensation reforms by a lopsided vote of 110 to 4. This marks the first overhaul of the state’s workers’ comp system in nearly two decades. The charge was led by Republican representative, Dale Folwell, a 52-year old legislator who gained renown after driving over 32,000 miles on his motorcycle in 2006 to raise money for organ donation awareness (Folwell’s son was killed in 1999 by a motorist).

According to The Charlotte Observer, the massive changes to North Carolina workers’ compensation law will now go to the Senate for approval. The house passage ended months of marathon negotiations and years of controversy. Here are some of the big takeaways, summarized by the Charlotte Observer:

• “Caps payment for most disabled workers of 500 weeks, or 9.5 years, bringing North Carolina in line with neighboring states. Now there is no cap. The change would not affect workers currently on worker’s comp.
• Extends temporary partial disability payments from 300 to 500 weeks.
• Increases survivors’ death benefits from 400 to 500 weeks and burial expenses from $3,500 to $10,000.”

Folwell was at the epicenter of many passionate debates over the proposed legislation. According to the Observer, “one meeting lasted almost 13 hours.” Although business interest groups and Republican lawmakers drove the push for reform, Democrats, labor unions, and workers rights advocates claimed victories. As a Democrat from Durham, Representative Paul Leubke, commented “[workers advocates] feel it’s the best bill that could be developed in the context of this general assembly… it’s not as balanced as some might have represented.”

Governor Beverly Perdue lauded lawmakers for coming to the consensus: “working together, we seem to have accomplished that goal [of creating a long lasting fix to the system].”

Now that all the Sturm und Drang has passed (hopefully), workers, employers, business groups, insurance companies, trial lawyers, and other interested parties will get to sit back and watch to see how the changes to NC’s workers’ comp laws actually unfold. Will they save money? Will workers’ rights be unfairly infringed upon? Will the architects of this project objectively measure the results and change course if need be based on the data?

There are so many question marks at this point; it’s difficult to digest all the implications.

If you or a family member is receiving benefits or is seeking benefits, a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you unpack your options and develop a strategy that fits the context of this momentous and tumultuous time in the world of the state’s workers’ comp laws.

More Web Resources:

NC house sets up final vote on workers’ comp bill

Representative Paul Leubke