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Uninsured employers leave injured N.C. workers destitute

North Carolina's workers' compensation system is supposed to provide a speedy and fair financial lifeline to injured workers. But the system depends on employers purchasing the workers' compensation insurance that is required by state law. When employers cut corners and fail to maintain the insurance, workers who are hurt on the job are left in the lurch.

One victim of such an employer is a 53-year-old Raleigh man who broke both feet when he fell of a roof several years ago. He is owed more than $70,000 in lost income, but his employer, a roofing contractor, had failed to buy the mandatory workers' comp insurance. The employer owes another injured worker $100,000. The North Carolina Industrial Commission has been putting pressure on the employer to pay up, but so far he has paid only $75. Meanwhile, the injured roofer is disabled from working and now survives on food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security disability payments.

The problem of uninsured employers is a serious one in North Carolina. One newspaper reported that about 30,000 employers in the state are required to have workers' compensation insurance but do not. The Industrial Commission is contacted by 300 to 500 employees every year who have suffered a workplace injury, only to find their employer is uninsured. The commission tries to collect from the employers themselves, but as in the case of the roofer from Raleigh, such efforts are often a waste of time.

Advocates for working people argue that the state needs to have a fund to cover such workers. Over half the states have such a fund, including South Carolina and other states that border North Carolina. The South Carolina fund is paid for by a fee assessed on workers' compensation policies that are sold in the state. The idea is long overdue in North Carolina.

Source: Charlotte Observer, "Seeking help for hurt N.C. workers," Mandy Locke, Dec. 27, 2012

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