A recent report from The National Safety Council details how an increasing number of injured workers are being prescribed powerful opioid  pain medications with adverse and sometimes fatal outcomes. pills4

The report indicates that in 2011, one quarter of workers’ compensation drug claim costs were for opioid pain medications for workers who had been injured on-the-job, yet studies show this hasn’t improved treatment outcomes.

In fact, there is evidence to suggest that dosing a worker with more than one week’s worth of opioid medications is associated with a worker being twice as likely to still be disabled one year later. Plus, these drugs often lead to serious harm, including addiction, overdose and death.  Continue reading

The way a company classifies its workers – whether as employees or independent contractors – has a significant bearing on whether they will be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits for an on-the-job injury. worker6

You see, employees are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Independent contractors aren’t. The problem is too many companies say their workers are independent contractors, when the collective evidence shows they are in fact employees. For these individuals, workers’ compensation benefits are not totally out-of-reach, but they are tougher to get because workers first have to prove in court that they are actually employees.

Now, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has signed an executive order designed to crack down on those companies who purposely misclassify workers in order to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance.  Continue reading

Far too many North Carolina companies are putting employees at risk by failing to secure the appropriate workers’ compensation insurance to ensure benefits in case they are hurt on the job. workers

The North Carolina Industrial Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing workers’ compensation law and overseeing claims, reports it has been cracking down on companies that try to evade their duty to workers and taxpayers. In the last year, the commission reports it has collected $1 million in civil fines from companies that were not properly insured. Further, some 100 employers were charged with criminal misdemeanors for willfully violating the law.

State law mandates that any company that has more than two employees has to provide workers’ compensation coverage – at no cost to the workers. It’s part of the “grand bargain” workers made with corporate America years ago when they forfeited the right to sue their employers for work injuries. In exchange, companies are supposed to keep this insurance and promptly pay out claims for medical expenses and lost wages due caused by work injuries or illnesses.  Continue reading

A group of bipartisan legislators in the South Carolina senate have introduced a bill that would allow some emergency responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.policeline

The condition is a psychiatric disorder that is often associated with military combat, and it typically occurs following experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events. It’s marked by biological changes in the brain, as well as psychological symptoms that can impair a person’s ability to function.

S. 429 introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly would allow first responders to receive compensation for mental injury or mental illness medically diagnosed as PTSD, assuming it arises from that worker’s direct involvement in a traumatic experience or situation at work. The bill specifically says benefits could be granted without regard for whether the experience or situation was “extraordinary or unusual” in comparison to what is deemed the “normal working conditions” of a first responder. Continue reading

Families of three workers killed in a North Carolina scaffolding accident have filed a lawsuit against four companies that were either central to work on the project or supplied the scaffolding necessary to complete it. scaffolding1

The March 2015 accident killed three men, two of them 33-years-old and a third was 41. All lived in this state. A fourth worker, 53, was treated for serious injuries but survived. The men worked for a subcontractor that was helping to erect a $54 million office building on Fayetteville and Lenoir Streets, adjacent to the Raleigh Convention Center and the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center.

News reports indicate the problem was the scaffolding mast climber. This is a type of equipment that goes up and down the side of a building to take workers to different floors. These men were working to take the scaffolding down when one of the tracks snapped off and came crashing to the ground in a huge mass of metal.  Continue reading

In order for a disability to be compensable under North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, it has to be either due to an accident that arose out of and in the course of one’s employment or else an occupational disease. chiropractor

As defined by N.C. Gen. Stat.97-53, an occupational disease is a sickness or some morbid condition that develops gradually over a period of time and is the cumulative effect of the series of events that cause the disease.

The statute lists a number of conditions that automatically are occupational diseases. One of those, as pertinent to the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Breath v. Orthocarolina, is bursitis. This is a condition involving inflammation at the joints caused by intermittent pressure in employment.  Continue reading

Construction workers are often at serious risk of injury and even death, particularly when industry safety practices are not followed. steeltube

Claims for compensation in these matters – whether through the workers’ compensation system or by third party liability lawsuit – are often complicated by the fact that many construction sites have a number of entities and employers and contractors involved.

In the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Bullard v. Peak Steel, plaintiff sought compensation via a third-party liability lawsuit against the construction company on whose site her husband was fatally injured. Trial court had dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it concluded the worker was in fact an employee of the defendant, meaning the Industrial Commission had jurisdiction over the claim. The appellate court ultimately affirmed this conclusion, meaning workers’ compensation death benefits would be her only recourse at this point.  Continue reading

Permanent total disability benefits in North Carolina are only awarded in limited circumstances. Those who qualify may be entitled to a lifetime of disability benefits, but the criteria is strict. catscan

For a worker hurt prior to June 24, 2011, permanent total disability benefits may be paid upon determination that worker is unable to ever find suitable employment due to work injury. However, workers injured after that date have to show they have one of the following conditions:

  • Loss of both hands, both arms, both feet, both legs, both eyes or any combination of any two listed body parts;
  • Spinal injury involving paralysis of both legs, both arms or the trunk;
  • Severe closed head or brain injuries;
  • Second-degree or third-degree burns on 33 percent or more of the total body surface.

Many states have similar – and increasingly strict – criteria for permanent total disability benefits.  Continue reading

The South Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in favor of a school district worker who suffered a repetitive motion injury. Previously, the workers’ compensation commission ruled the statute of limitations had run out on his case, but the appellate court reversed.acfan

In Rhame v. Charleston County School District, plaintiff had worked as a heating and air conditioning technician for the district for more than 20 years, from 1987 to 2009. His work often required that he lift equipment that weighed as much as 100 pounds.

Starting in 1994, he began to experience on-and-off back pain. He also developed problems with his neck and had to undergo cervical fusion surgery. After talking about his health issues with someone at the district, he was told the district would not provide benefits for these problems – even though they were work related. The district later sent a formal denial letter for neck injury benefits.  Continue reading

Non-profit news organization ProPublica has been doggedly covering the issue of eroding workers’ compensation benefits throughout the country in recent years.party

Now, in a recent report, an investigation sheds light on the explosive growth of an industry that is thriving off “cost-cutting” workers’ compensation benefits. These companies, billing themselves as “cost containment” entities, offer services ranging from negotiation of medical bills to claim management to arrangement of medical providers, defense lawyers and expert witnesses in workers’ compensation cases. All promise to lower costs for companies by “getting workers working again more quickly.” But the reality is, these companies are raking in enormous profits and wield tremendous influence on the outcome of workers’ compensation cases – often to the detriment of workers.

As evidence of this cottage industry’s success, ProPublica detailed one of the 150 or so national conferences the industry holds annually – about one every other day. The scene: Las Vegas. Acrobats dangling from the ceiling. Neon lights. Techno music. Scantily-clad female dancers on poles. Open bars and free chocolate truffles. Designer handbag giveaways. Free Hummer limousine rides. Photo-ops with Olympians and celebrities. Rock star performances. And a live alligator. Continue reading

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