The North Carolina Legislature recently made significant changes to its workers’ compensation law. Governor Perdue signed the bill into law on June 24, 2011, which increases the duration of benefits for partial disability and places a cap on the number of weeks an injured worker can receive temporary total disability benefits. These changes to benefits apply to all cases arising on or after June 24, 2011.
The law is the result of a compromise between a number of interested parties. The AFL-CIO, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the Employers’ Coalition of North Carolina and workers’ compensation lawyers all had a say in the new legislation.
The benefit cap was a primary concern for many of the negotiating parties, specifically for employers and insurance companies. Fortunately, the legislative compromise still allows catastrophically injured employees to obtain for permanent and total disability workers’ compensation, which is not capped and can be obtained for life.
Cap of Temporary Total Disability
The prior law allowed workers who were injured and could not work to collect workers’ compensation benefits for their lifetime. The new law limits the duration of temporary total disability to 500 weeks from the first date of disability for workers injured after June 23, 2011.
The new 500 week limit is similar to surrounding states and does have an exception for workers who are able to prove in a hearing that, after receiving 425 weeks of temporary total disability, they are likely to have a continuing total loss of earning capacity. The worker would then be eligible for extended temporary total disability benefits beyond the 500 week limit. Workers with certain catastrophic physical injuries such as double amputation, brain injury, or spinal injuries with paralysis, would be able to obtain permanent and total disability benefits for their remaining lifetime.
Increase in Partial Disability
Another important change included in this law is the provision on partial disability. For injuries occurring on or after June 24, 2011, injured employees who are able to continue to work but have a partial loss of wages may collect weekly payments for 300 to 500 weeks. This is an increase from the prior law which limited this benefit to 300 weeks.
These significant changes will continue to protect workers who have severe injuries and will protect workers who continue to work through a partial disability. However, with the potential for capped benefits, obtaining the help of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is essential to receiving the workers’ compensation benefits an injured worker deserves.