The North Carolina House of Representatives has approved changes to rules governing workers’ compensation claims.
The House chamber voted Tuesday in support of a consensus bill whose chief sponsor said came together after weeks of negotiations with groups representing employers, employees and the state. Rep. Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem said the agreement will protect workers, compensate the injured and encourage people to return to work.
The bill caps temporary payments for a totally disabled worker at nearly 10 years. The current law has no cap, which Folwell said places North Carolina at a competitive disadvantage. The bill also raises the maximum time for wage benefits for the partially disabled and for death benefits. The measure also offers new language regarding records needed to review an injured worker’s claim.
The legislation, titled the Protect and Put North Carolina Back to Work bill(HB 709), would place a 500-week cap on temporary total disability benefits and increase the cap on temporary partial disability benefits from 300 weeks to 500 weeks.
If the state Senate follows the House, the legislation would be the first major workers’ compensation reform in North Carolina since 1994.
Injured worker groups and trial attorneys had spoken out against changes early in the process but parties managed to come to a compromise in the final House bill.
On May 26, parties including the Chamber of Commerce, the Advocates for Justice representing trial attorneys, the Republican Attorneys Association, and the state AFL-CIO announced they had agreed to a compromise bill.
“Many may feel that the bill does not go far enough to reduce costs and others will feel the provisions fall short of protecting the interests of injured workers, but in times such as these all sides made compromises, and overall we feel the changes preserve the backbone of our workers’ compensation system that pays fair compensation to injured workers at a reasonable cost to the employers,” said Dick Taylor of the lawyers’ group.
“The N.C. Chamber fought hard and won major concessions, and yet the common ground preserved in the consensus bill allows North Carolinians to retain a fair workers’ compensation system,” said workers’ compensation attorney Gina Cammarano, a former special deputy commissioner at the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) applauded the bill.
“This is a good bill that will bring North Carolina’s workers compensation system more in line with neighboring states and improve the business climate in the state. We urge the Senate to pass this legislation as well,” said Micaela Isler, PCI’s Southeast regional manager.
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