Yesterday, two state Senators filed a new legislative bill that is designed to take away some very important rights to the working citizens of North Carolina. The new bill adversely changes the existing worker’s compensation laws. Worker’s compensation is the body of law that sets out the rules that apply when someone is injured on the job.
Worker’s compensation benefits only cover lost wages and medical bills. The injured worker is not compensated for pain and suffering, mental or emotional anguish and other damages. In other words, the worker’s right to recover is quite limited under worker’s compensation. When someone is hurt on the job, worker’s compensation is usually the worker’s only remedy under the law. You cannot sue your employer even if your employer recklessly caused you to get hurt.
In some instances, when someone is injured on the job, there is a third person or entity that actually caused the on-the-job injury. For example, if a construction worker is hauling a load of lumber from a lumber company to a job site, and some third person runs a red light, crashes into him, and injures him, then the worker would receive worker’s compensation benefits because he was injured on-the-job, but the third person (the at-fault driver) would also be liable to the injured worker.
In situations where the injury was caused by a third person, the employer’s worker’s compensation insurance company would have a “lien” (right to be paid back) against the worker’s recovery from the third person’s insurance company. The current law says that the employer’s worker’s compensation insurance company has a right to be paid back all (100%) of its lien, but that a Superior Court Judge can reduce that lien to an amount that the judge feels is fair so that justice is served to everyone involved.
In most situations, cases against third parties are settled or compromised for various reasons. Once a third party claim is settled, then the attorney for the injured worker and the attorney for the employer’s worker’s compensation insurance company usually work out a deal with regard to the employer’s lien. If a deal cannot be reached about how much of the lien should be paid back, then the parties ask a Superior Court judge to decide what is fair.
The new bill would chip-away at that last step, and instead give the employer the right to say whether a lien can be reduced more than 50%. In our experience, employers are usually aligned with their worker’s compensation insurance company and oppose any reduction in the lien amount.
The BOTTOM LINE is that injured workers are about to see their right to recover fair compensation for their injuries further reduced so that insurance companies can continue to post ever increasing profits. “Pro-Business” and “Pro-Insurance Company” are the new mantras of our legislature.
If you are concerned about this, you can contact the legislators in your district and let them know that you do not want this bill passed into law. Here is a link to our state senators: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/members/reports/room-phone.pl?Chamber=senate&viewType=normal.