Workers' Compensation Reform
Position: NCCBI continues
to support changes in the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act to
fully restore that law to its original intent as a simple and
efficient system of compensating employees injured in workplace
accidents while protecting employers from civil litigation and
unlimited and unpredictable compensation liability. Specifically,
NCCBI supports changes to protect employers from being sued regarding
workplace injuries where the employer is paying workers' compensation
benefits to the injured employee, to limit payment of workers'
compensation benefits only to those who are physically unable to work
as a direct result of their workplace accident, and to make the
administration of the act simpler and more efficient, thereby reducing
the need for costly litigation.
was the leading organization in the successful fight to reform North
Carolina's workers' compensation system in 1994. That reform achieved
its goal of relieving the dramatic upward pressure on workers'
compensation costs to employers that had occurred during the decade
prior to that reform. Since 1994, however, court decisions and other
events have renewed the upward trend in workers' compensation costs.
Some important changes need to be made now to prevent the kinds of
double digit rate increases like those that occurred in the late
For example, there should be
limitations on how much a claimant can receive when a workplace injury
combines with a preexisting condition to cause a disability. In such a
situation, the employer should be liable only for that portion of the
disability caused by the workplace incident, and not that which
results from a preexisting condition. Alternatively, an employer
should be held liable for compensation benefits only when the
occupation is the primary cause of a disease or injury. Second,
consistent with the practice in all of our neighboring states, there
should be a limit on the number of weeks that a person can receive
workers' compensation benefits for any one injury. North Carolina's
Workers' Compensation Act originally limited a claimant to receiving
300 weeks of compensation except in the most extreme cases. That limit
was written out of the law by a court decision and should be restored.
Restoring the limit would streamline the system and reduce litigation.
Third, because of the ease with which such claims can be fabricated,
compensation for mental stress without physical injury should be
prohibited. Next, wage replacement benefits should end at retirement
age, when the employee would not have been earning wages to be
replaced even without an injury.
Perhaps most importantly,
once an injured employee is physically able to return to some type of
work, the employee should be required to return to work or else prove
circumstances that justify a decision to not return to work. In other
words, there should be no presumption in favor of the employee that
benefits should continue until the employee actually returns to work.
The employee controls whether or not he or she actually returns to
work and the employer should not be required to continue payment of
benefits after the employee's treating physician determines that the
employee is physically able to work.
These are the major changes
that are necessary to restore our workers' compensation system to its
original intent. To the extent that these unaddressed issues continue
to cause ' unnecessary and unfair costs in our workers' compensation
system, they continue to be a hindrance to economic development, job
creation, and commercial competitiveness. So long as the workers'
compensation system remains a highly litigated scheme of general
entitlement to unemployment compensation and medical benefits, NCCBI
believes that both employers and employees are ill-served.
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