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2011 Changes To North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a set of revisions to the Workers’ Compensation Act, most of which were, or were at least intended to be, bad for injured workers. To complicate matters, some of the revisions apply to all cases, while others apply only to cases in which the injuries occurred on or after the effective date of the revisions, which is stated as June 24, 2011.

The most notable of the changes was to impose a 500-week limit on how long injured workers can be paid compensation for being out of work. That applies only to claims arising on or after the effective date. Therefore, if your injury occurred before June 24, 2011, you will generally be able to receive compensation for total disability for as long as you are unable to work. Very few injured workers are out of work that long, but those who are usually the most severely injured and the most in need of ongoing benefits. To complicate matters, there is a provision that might allow some totally disabled workers to continue benefits beyond the 500-week limit, if they prove disability almost nine years after their injuries, but it is difficult to predict how that will work, because we will not see the first cases reach that point in their duration until sometime around the beginning of the year 2020.

The period during which compensation can be received for reduced wages after returning to work has been increased from 300 to 500 weeks, but it is not clear whether injured workers will be forced to accept lower paying jobs more readily, and some other features of the new law will complicate decisions as to how to deal with availability of lower paying jobs and settlements that come up in those circumstances. Changes in the definition and application of vocational rehabilitation will also affect return to work issues. These provisions mostly apply only to cases arising after the effective date.

The other major changes have to do with control of medical treatment and opinions and communication with doctors. The effect of those changes will have to be determined over the next several years, as cases reveal what the changes really mean. Most of the changes concerning medical issues apply to all cases, regardless of when the injuries occurred.

In short, the 2011 changes have created numerous new issues that will require the attention of lawyers. If you have any questions about them, you should call a highly qualified workers’ compensation attorney.