Reasons to File a Formal Workers’ Compensation Claim if the Employer is Already Paying for Your Medical Benefits and Lost Wages

Posted on Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 at 10:22 am    

It’s tempting for many North Carolina and Virginia workers to think that their employer and the employer’s insurance company are on their side – especially when they’re paying you 2/3rds of your lost wages and paying for your medical bills. While this may seem nice, it can hurt your case in many ways. The best course of action is to consult with an experienced work injury lawyer who will protect your rights by filing a formal workers’ compensation claim on your behalf. The bottom line is that if you are not under an Award in Virginia or you do not have an Accepted Claim in North Carolina, your benefits are in serious jeopardy. 

In Virginia, a claim is formally started by way of a Claim Form. In North Carolina, this is done via a Form 18. 

Some of the reasons workers need to file a formal claim, instead of relying on the informal kindness of their employer are:

  • The employer can stop the payments at any time. Without a formal Award Order from the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Commission, the burden remains on the employee to show he or she cannot work. If the injured worker is released to return to light duty, even a lifting restriction of one pound, the employer and insurance carrier are within their rights to CUT OFF BENEFITS. Why? Because there has been no pronouncement by way of an Award Order that the injured worker is entitled to benefits. 
  • The filing of a Claim Form starts the clock running for the employer/carrier to declare whether or not they are accepting or denying the claim. The Virginia Workers Comp Commission (VWCC) will typically issue a 20-day Order which requires the employer or carrier to declare one way or another what their position is and why. If they agree your claim is compensable, they will issue an Award Agreement, which is usually filled out and sent to you by the claims adjuster or defense attorney. You should have that Agreement reviewed by a competent Workers Compensation Attorney before signing, but you SHOULD NEVER let an Award Agreement sit around unsigned without either signing it and sending it back to the adjuster or consulting a worker’s comp lawyer. This is because once the Agreement is received by the VWCC, they will convert it into an Award Order, which means you have won your case. 
  • In Virginia, once the Award Order is entered and 30 days pass, the burden of proof then automatically shifts to the employer. Now, even if the injured worker is released to light duty, the benefits will not stop unless and until the employer can either return the injured worker to work in the pre-injury job, or find another job at the same or greater pay for the injured worker. 
  • In North Carolina, the Form 18 starts a 90-day countdown whereby the employer is required to let the injured employee know whether or not they are accepting the claim, conditionally accepting the claim, or denying the claim. They do this through one of three forms: 

A Form 60 is Filed by the Carrier if they are accepting the claim. 

A Form 63 is filed by the Carrier is they are conditionally accepting the claim (i.e. they need to investigate a few things first)

A Form 61 is filed by the Carrier if they are denying the claim. 

  • There are time limits that you have to file a claim, which are two years from the date of injury. Workers who don’t file a claim could:
    • Lose the right to lifetime medical care for your work injuries, and potential settlement of the employer’s lifetime obligations;
    • Lose the right to receive any further ongoing compensation, even if your doctor removes you from work due to your injuries. 
    • Lose the ability to be compensated for a permanent impairment rating. These ratings, applied after the employee reaches maximum medical improvement, often provide substantial additional benefits for workers who can return to work (and those who can’t return to work) – but have a permanent medical injury that meets the state law requirements
    • Lose the right to seek vocational rehabilitation if the worker can’t return to an old job but may be able to learn the skills for a new job
    • Other benefits depending on your health status

Employees should understand that there is no expense to file a claim but, as mentioned, there are time limits – generally one day less than two years from the date of the accident. These limits can be extended in some cases if the employee is receiving benefits, but a competent worker’s comp attorney should be consulted to see if you are being protected appropriately. When in doubt, FILE. 

 

Virginia and North Workers’ Compensation Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has the experience and skills to help you get your full benefits and help you fight attempts by the employer to terminate or reduce your benefits. He has helped thousands of workers get strong recoveries and has been representing injured and ill workers for more than a quarter of a century. To speak with a persuasive workers’ compensation attorney, call lawyer Joe Miller at 888-667-8295. or use my contact form to schedule an appointment.

Mileage Adjustments for Medical Visits

Posted on Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 at 10:20 am    

Injured works and ill workers in North Carolina and Virginia are entitled to have all their reasonable and necessary medical expenses paid. This includes more than just paying hospitals for surgeries and hospital visits, doctors for their reviews and treatments, and therapists for their continual care. It includes more than the cost for medical devices and prescriptions. 

Workers also have the right to have the insurance company for the employer pay for the cost to get to the hospitals and their doctors. This is especially fair because the employer chooses the doctors patients can treat with and the choice is what’s best for the employer, not what’s best or convenient for the employee.

What reimbursement costs are allowed?

In both North Carolina and Virginia, the mileage and transportation costs include the cost to pay for cabs and rideshare services, public transportation, parking lot fees, and tolls. For employees who drive their car to the medical provider’s offices, they are entitled to a mileage allowance.

Reimbursement costs don’t include the cost of gasoline to get to these medical offices and they don’t cover trips to the pharmacy. Pharmacy costs generally aren’t covered because many workers and doctors can use mail pharmacy services.

According to the North Carolina Industrial Commission rules, mileage reimbursement is allowed for trips 20 miles or more (round trip – so 10 miles each way) as follows:

When and how can reimbursement for sick travel be collected?

In North Carolina, this is done through a Form 25T. If employees travel 20 miles or more round trip for medical treatment in workers’ compensation cases, they are entitled to collect for mileage at the rate of 25 cents a mile for travel prior to June 1, 2000; 

  • 31 cents a mile for travel between June 1, 2000 and January 17, 2006; 
  • 44.5 cents a mile for travel between January 18 and December 31, 2006; 
  • 48.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2007; 
  • 50.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and June 30, 2008; 
  • 58.5 cents a mile for travel between July 1 and December 31, 2008; 
  • 55 cents a mile for travel during 2009; 
  • 50 cents a mile for travel during 2010; 
  • 51 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and June 30, 2011; 
  • 55.5 cents a mile for travel between July 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012; 
  • 56.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2013; 
  • 56 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2014; 
  • 57.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2015; 
  • 54 cents a mile for travel on or after January 1, 2016.

The IRS sets the reimbursement rates so the amount workers can be reimbursed is the same in Virginia as it is for North Carolina. As of this writing, it is .555 cents per mile.  In Virginia, there is no prescribed form to recover mileage, but it should be done clearly and legibly, with each date of service listed as well as the mileage roundtrip for each date. 

In addition to transportation expenses, in North Carolina: “Employees are entitled to lodging and meal expenses, at the rate established for state employees by the North Carolina Director of Budget, when it is medically necessary that the employee stay overnight at a location away from the employee’s usual place of residence.”

Your North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer will help you obtain and fill out the correct reimbursement forms. It’s critical that you document all your travel expenses. This means getting receipts where you can and keeping a travel and mileage journal.

Medicare vs. Workers’ Compensation – Who Pays

Posted on Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 at 10:19 am    

Many older workers who are injured on the job or suffer an occupational illness are entitled to both Medicare and Worker’s Compensation benefits.

There are two general issues involving Medicare. The first involves the regular medical submissions from doctors and other health providers while the employee is getting treatments so they can return to work – or know if they can’t return to work. These payments are paid until the worker reaches maximum medial improvement – the point at which future medical treatments won’t help the worker’s health improve. 

The second issue involves the settlement of the claim after the worker has reached maximum medical improvement. In a settlement, funds need to be allocated ahead of time, often before the worker is eligible for Medicare, to account for what Medicare will pay and what workers’ compensation will pay. This is discussed in several places on this website and is known as a Medicare Set-Aside (MSA)

Workers’ compensation is managed by the state where you work. Medicare is a federal program. Generally, the bills for work injuries are submitted to the insurance company for your employer. If they refuse to the pay the bill with 120 days, then Medicare should pay the bill – conditionally. This means Medicare pays the bill – but reserves the right to be reimbursed if it is agreed that the workers’ comp carrier should have paid the bill or there is a ruling that they should have paid the bill. 

The medical bill should be something that Medicare covers. Complicating matters is that Medicare normally only pays 80% of hospital and physician services. Supplemental insurance pays the other 20% if the worker has supplemental insurance. The issues get more complex if the worker has reached the age of Medicare eligibility before he/she has reached maximum medical improvement.

A Workers’ Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Agreement is used to pay future bills in a settlement. Typically, before any long-term settlement is reached, the lawyer for the employer will contact a company who specializes in estimating the future medical costs of the injured worker in relation to their work injuries. That company will usually then prepare a detailed Medicare Set-Aside report which sets forth, in great detail, the estimated amounts of the injured worker’s future treatment for his or her work injuries. 

If the injured worker is a current Medicare recipient, the employer’s attorney must then submit that report to Medicare’s CMS Office to get approval for any funds that are set aside to pay Medicare in the future. This is money that is set aside is first used to pay the future medical expenses in relation to the employee’s work injuries.  Once approved by CMS, the settlement can then proceed. 

 Only when the set-aside amount is used up can the worker request that Medicare pay for any other future medical bills. To ensure that Medicare isn’t paying more than it should, if the worker is a current Medicare recipient, he or she must obtain the OK from Medicare for set-aside amount.  Sometimes the set-Aside arrangement will be lump sum, other times it will be an initial seed amount, followed by yearly payments for a set number of years to the worker. In addition, sometimes the Medicare money is “self-administered” by the employee, and other times, it is administered by a Medical Management Company. 

If the injured worker is not a current Medicare recipient, but the settlement is over a certain amount and the worker has applied for Social Security Disability (SSDI), it is recommended that a Medicare Set Aside be done privately by the employee as part of settlement, and that the amounts set aside be recited in the settlement agreement. This is to make sure Medicare’s interests are protected, because a worker who is deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration will automatically qualify for Medicare at 24 months from his or her date of disability. Although such arrangements for non-Medicare recipients do not have to be reviewed in advance by Medicare, they are advisable to avoid any problems down the road. 

The bottom line is that the law wants to prevent “double-dipping.” Medicare does not want to see a worker receiving a settlement which includes money for future medicals for his or her injuries, and then see that same worker turn around and hit up Medicare for those same bills. 

Experienced workers’ compensation lawyers know how to review Medicare-Set Aside plans to help determine what your future medical needs such as continued therapy, medication, or diagnostic procedures a will be. Once a settlement is made, the employee can’t go back and ask for more. That being said, the beauty of a formal Medicare Set-Aside is that once the money is used up, the worker can then turn to Medicare to cover his or her treatment related to the work injuries.

Virginia and North Workers’ Compensation Attorney Joe Miller Esq.  knows his way around the rules pertaining to authorized physicians as well as Medicare.  He’ll help you come up with legitimate strategies to find a solution if the company doctors are more interested in rushing you back to work than in treating your injuries or illnesses. He’s helped thousands of employees get the full workers’ compensation awards and settlements they deserve. For help now, call lawyer Joe Miller at 888-667-8295. or fill out my contact form to make an appointment.

More Information on Clincher Agreements

Posted on Thursday, August 1st, 2019 at 3:23 pm    

Why employees consider a clincher agreement?

For many workers, once it becomes clear that they have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) (that no further treatments will improve their health), it makes sense to start thinking about their long-term position. Some of the reasons workers consider lump-sum payments are:

  • Plain and simple – the worker gets to control the money.
  • The worker can’t rely on the 2/3rds of your wage weekly checks, which only come once per week. It is more advantageous to have a lump sum, so the funds can be invested, or used for a business, so that the family can be taken care of, and for other reasons personal to the worker.
  • If the injured worker dies at any point, his or her checks will stop and so will all future, potential medical treatment. A settlement usually converts a significant future portion of the future checks and medical treatment the employee would receive to a lump sum of cash, which cash can be saved, invested, and passed on to one’s heirs. 

The disadvantages of a clincher agreement

  • If your condition gets worse than you expected, you can’t go back and ask for additional medical benefits. This is why it is critical that you and your attorney work with your doctors to fully understand your medical prognosis.
  • If you are out of work and unable to obtain an alternate job within your restrictions, you may run out of the clincher money. 

The amount you receive will be discounted to reflect the idea that the lump sum can earn interest over the time you normally would have waited to get your payments.

If, as we’ve pointed out before, you are receiving any unemployment compensation pay, you will lose the right to claim those benefits.

How is the amount of the lump sum payment determined?

The answer depends on your type of injuries. The basic types of injury categories in North Carolina are:

  • Permanent and Total Disability. This type of settlement is reserved for workers where it is clear you will never be able to return to work due to:

 

    • Your injuries from a workplace accident
    • An occupational disease
    • Your combination of skills, ages, and injuries means you can never expect to work again even if you are retrained
    • You have one of the categories of injuries that North Carolina considers to be permanently disabling, brain damage, paraplegia, or quadriplegia.

 

If all these criteria are met, you will be entitled to checks of 2/3rds of your average weekly wage for the remainder of your life.  

    •  Extended Compensation Application for extended compensation at 425 weeks.  This is a separate category of injury where your injuries are so severe that you have lost your entire residual capacity to work. This can come from any type of injury, but you must prove that you cannot work and you cannot file for extended compensation until you reach 425 weeks of compensation. If granted, the Industrial Commission may grant you benefits beyond the typical limit of 500 weeks for your weekly checks. That being said, even if granted, the defendants may, from time to time, challenge your ongoing rights to receive benefits beyond the 500 weeks, by forcing you to again prove that you remain disabled.
    •  Temporary Total Disability. For most employees, workers who are placed in this category are entitled to up to 2/3rds of the average weekly wage for up to 500 weeks. This type of settlement commonly entered by workers who have the ability to engage in some kind of work, but are unable to return to their pre-injury job.  Workers must prove that they are unable to find suitable work with these restrictions may seek a clincher agreement.

 

  • Permanent Partial Disability Settlements, or ‘ratings only’ settlements. This category is for employees who can return to work but not the same job or same pay as before the accident or occupational illness. The amount of your weekly benefits is based on an impairment rating and your type of injury.

 

 

  • Partial Incapacity Settlements. Some workers who achieve maximum medical improvement can return to work but at a lower pay. They are generally entitled to the 2/3rds of the difference between the lower current pay and higher pre-accident or pre-occupational disease pay. Most workers, except those with very old claims, are entitled to this sum for up to 500 weeks.

 

  • Death Benefits to Survivors. If a worker dies, the spouse and/or other relatives may be entitled to long-term benefits which can be paid in a lump sum. An experienced work injury lawyer can explain what benefits are allowed including the costs of the funeral and who is entitled to the benefits.

How are future medical bills addressed in a clincher agreement?

 

It is typically not advisable for a worker to settle his or her workers’ compensation claim if the worker has not reached maximum medical improvement. Additional surgeries, treatments, and therapies may improve your condition. They can be quite expensive. You shouldn’t forfeit the right to get as healthy as you can by having the employer and insurance company pay for that treatment. Then again, each and every case is different. 

You may feel, for instance, that your skill set will enable you to obtain an alternate job where you can find health insurance which will likely cover future costs, in which case, it may make sense for you to examine settlement. 

Once workers have achieved their maximum health, some may not need additional medical care – for example, if they broke a bone and the bone has healed. Many workers, however, will need continuing health care to prevent their condition from getting worse. This is especially critical for workers with occupational diseases which often worsen with time. Workers with chronic injuries or other physical injuries may need constant help. If a worker needs a prosthetic, the prosthetic may wear out with time. The cost of medications must be part of the overall clincher settlement agreement.

There is always some risk in settling your case if you need more medical care. An experienced workers comp attorney can help you make an estimate as to what your future medical bills will be.

In any event, once it is determined that a full and final settlement of your case may be advantageous, your attorney will help calculate your future medical costs related to your injury by first estimating our life expectancy. This can be done by relying on certain statutes in North Carolina that actually provide the average life expectancies for both males and females each year across the State. 

Are there other issues to consider in a worker’s compensation clincher agreement?

One complicated problem is how your Medicare benefits and Social Security benefits are figured since many workers may be eligible for both Medicare and workers’ compensation benefits if they have a lifetime disability or were older when they first applied for work injury benefits. This is typically handled through something called a Medicare Set-Aside Arrangement or MSA. Basically, if you are a current Medicare recipient or if you are on Social Security Disability, you cannot settle your workers compensation claim without taking into account Medicare’s interests. 

Also, if you’re going through a divorce, you’ll need to review your marital rights with a family lawyer.

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 30 years. He is highly respected by his legal peers and former clients. He’ll fight to get you every dollar you deserve. He’ll contest any effort by the employer to terminate or reduce your benefits. Call attorney Joe Miller today at 888-667-8295. or use my contact form to schedule an appointment. 

 

Frequently Asked Workers’ Compensation Questions

Posted on Monday, July 1st, 2019 at 10:29 am    

Workers have the right to ask questions about their workers’ compensation claim. Experienced work injury lawyers are happy to answer all your North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation questions.

Anyone who is injured while working on their job has questions about their rights. Anyone who suffers an illness due to workplace conditions needs to understand their rights. The best advice for any employee who becomes injured or ill working is to make an appointment with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer. He can answer your questions, guide your through the workers’ compensation process, and advocate on your behalf.

Some of the more common questions, employees have about workers’ compensation include:

Who can benefit from workers’ compensation?

Generally, only employees of a company can file for work injury benefits. Independent contractors are typically not eligible. The good news is that the employer does not get to decide who is an employee or an independent contractor. The work relationship is determined by a variety of factors. The main factor is whether the employer controls the work performance of the worker or if the worker controls how he/she does their job. Some of the additional factors that determine whether a worker is an employee or not are who provides the tools to do the job, who controls the hours of performance, and how the worker is paid.

Employers with only one or two employees may not be required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Larger workers normally must have workers’ compensation insurance for each of their employees. As with most laws, there are some exceptions.

Must I show the employer was negligent?

No.  Workers’ compensation in both North Carolina and Virginia is a compromise. The employee only must show that an accident happened at work or that an illness is due to unique workplace conditions. The employee does not even need to show the employer failed to follow normal business safety standards. The trade-off is that the employee cannot make a claim for “pain and suffering” damages. Also, workers generally only get 2/3rds of their average weekly wages during the time they can’t work – and not the full 100%. There are also caps on how much an injured or ill worker can receive, typically up to 500 weeks.

There are a few exceptions. In Virginia, employers may challenge the right of a worker to demand work injury benefits if the worker intentionally caused his or injures – such as through getting into a fight with a coworker or getting into an accident while intoxicated. In North Carolina, any such showing will reduce the recovery by 10%. 

Also, in North Carolina, there was once an exception if the employer could be found to be guilty of intentional misconduct that caused the accident. The misconduct has been interpreted as meaning that the employer must have been substantially certain that the conduct that the employee was ordered to engage in would result in injury or death.  In those circumstances, there was once some possibility that the employer in North Carolina could be sued directly. This was known as a Woodson claim, named after the poor gentlemen who was ordered to his death by his employer, straight into a ditch the employer knew was about to collapse. 

Unfortunately, in more recent times, it has been widely recognized that the North Carolina Court of Appeals has essentially eliminated any possibility that one of these Woodson claims will ever see the light of day. 

What are the standard work injury benefits?

Injured workers typically receive two types of benefits:

  • Medical compensation. The goal of workers’ compensation is to help the worker return to his or her job. Workers who are injured often start their medical care by going to the local emergency room. If there is a severe problem, they may be admitted to a hospital for tests and for surgeries. Patients then can treat with their family doctor and any specialists who might reasonably help them heal. Specialists include pain management physicians, orthopedist, neurologists, cardiac care doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other doctors. 

 

Patients who are injured at work also usually treat with chiropractors, physical therapists, vocational therapists, and other health care providers.

 

These medical care providers should submit their bills to the employer’s workers compensation insurance carrier. The insurance carrier has a duty to pay these medical bills if they are reasonable, medically necessary, and related to the injury.

 

Other types of care that the insurance company should cover include the cost of medications and medical devices.

 

  • Wage loss compensation. Workers typically in both North Carolina and Virginia are entitled to receive 2/3rds of their average weekly wages during the time they can’t work. This is generally referred to as temporary total disability (TTD). There are caps on the amounts so that workers who earned too much money will only receive the cap limit. There are also limits on how long benefits can be paid –up to 500 weeks in Virginia and North Carolina. 

 

Workers who have a partial temporary disability and who can return to work receive at a lower-paying job receive 2/3rds of the wages they lose by accepting the lower paying job. This is called temporary partial disability (TPD). 

 

Workers who are no longer receiving TTD and have a permanent disability in a specific body part may be entitled to pay based on the type of disability they have in that body part. This is referred to as permanent partial impairment (PPI). Payments are made according to a percentage disability rating and a scale of weeks set forth via statute, depending on the type of disability (such as hearing loss or the loss of use of a hands, feet, arms or legs) and the degree of impairment.

Injured and ill workers may also be entitled to vocational rehabilitation; however, although this is technically a benefit it is usually not helpful to an injured workers case. It is typically utilized by the workers compensation insurance company to “trip up” the injured worker or apply pressure to settle the claim, or reduce the liability of the workers comp insurance company by finding a job-ANY job—for the injured worker. Voc Rehab is typically employed with workers who aren’t expected to return to the same type of job they did before the injury. 

Which doctors must I see? 

Normally, in Virginia, the employer will have a panel of three doctors for each type of injury or illness – starting with a list of family care doctors. Employees must choose one of the physicians on the list of doctors – for their type of injury or illness. If a referral is needed to a specialist such as an Orthopedic or Neurosurgeon, then additional panels must be provided by the workers compensation insurance company. 

In North Carolina, unfortunately, there are no panels, rather, the insurance company usually chooses a treating physician. 

If there is a good reason, then employees can seek permission from the Commission to see a doctor of their own choosing. A good reason may be that it is clear the doctor isn’t helping the injured worker get better he or she is still in pain – and still can’t work. Experienced North Carolina and Virginia work injury lawyers often have working relationships with a variety of physicians. The lawyer may be able to seek approval to switch to one of these doctors – or to an independent new doctor. 

In Virginia, this process is not easy. It really depends whether the authorized treating doctor has indicated that he or she no longer wants to see the injured worker. If the authorized treating doctor has not released the injured worker from care, for instance by saying “prn” in their office notes which means “patient may return as needed,” then it may be more difficult to seek a switch. 

Although there is no means to obtain a “second opinion” of a doctor formally through the Workers Compensation Commission by injured workers in Virginia, workers are free at any time to seek alternative care at their own cost. 

In North Carolina, there does exist a process to obtain an Independent Medical Examination—at the expense of the employer. 

Lawyer Joe Miller has helped thousands of injured and ill employees get their full workers’ compensation benefits. He represents workers in North Carolina and Virginia. He’ll answer your questions and explain the workers’ compensation process. He’ll work aggressively to help you get all the benefits you deserve. To review your case now, call  attorney Joe Miller at 1-(888) 667-8295 or use my contact form to schedule an appointment.

Vocational Rehabilitation Rights for North Carolina Workers

Posted on Thursday, June 27th, 2019 at 10:21 am    

Workers who can’t return to their old job may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation benefits. Vocational rehab benefits can include the cost of being retrained or to obtain additional education.

In most North Carolina workers compensation cases, injured and ill workers are compensated in two ways:

  • They are compensated for their medical bills. These are the hospital, doctor, and therapy bills the worker’s care medical providers are due – for helping the worker return to work to maximize their health. Medical bill payments also include the cost of drugs and medical devices.
  • They are paid for a portion of their lost wages. Generally, workers are paid 2/3rds of their average weekly wages up to 500 weeks. There are adjustments in the pay depending on whether the worker has a total or partial disability – i.e., whether the worker can return to a lower paying job with work restrictions, or remains totally disabled from work. 

Some workers, however, are not able to return to their pre-injury job because of their injuries or work-related illness. Sometimes, the worker’s doctor will authorize work with restrictions, otherwise referred to as “light duty,” – but the employer won’t be able to accommodate the restrictions. Since the goal of workers’ compensation is to help the worker earn an income, North Carolina offers another option called vocational rehabilitation.

For example, often workers who work in construction or industry depend on being physically fit to do hard physical labor. If a worker severely injures his or her back, loses function in a hand, or loses an arm; the worker can no longer do these jobs. With proper education, though, the worker could be re-trained to work in a clerical or administrative job. The worker might be able to learn technical skills that could be useful to many companies in the same job sectors or different job sectors altogether. 

Of course, the success of much of this depends on the age and current educational level of the injured worker. A 29-year-old worker is far more likely to be capable of re-training than a 59-year old laborer without a high school education. Usually, the injuries are more severe and pronounced in the older worker, and as they say, it is harder to teach an old dog new tricks. 

How vocational rehabilitation is defined

Worker’s compensation includes services that are designed to help a worker obtain suitable employment. These services typically include:

  • An assessment of the workers job skills, education, and abilities.
  • Determining what type of new job the worker could do if he/she was properly trained.
  • Reviewing the skills, degrees, and certifications that could help the worker obtain work in a new field.
  • Identifying the problems that restrict a specific worker from doing certain physical or mental tasks in a job.
  • Understanding what community college or other classes might help the worker learn new skills.
  • Understanding what college programs could help the work.
  • Providing counseling for workers looking for a new job – such as how to interview, where to apply, and how to prepare a resume.

Generally, the way it works is in accepted claims, when the worker reaches maximum medical improvement and is provided with permanent work restrictions by his or her doctor, if the employer is unable or unwilling to accommodate the injured workers’ restrictions, a vocational rehabilitation assessment will be ordered by the workers comp insurance company. 

Although these services one would think are a benefit, usually, the carrier will avoid paying for items that might truly assist in improving the worker’s skills and their ability to get a new job, such as education from a Community College or a degree from one of North Carolina’s many great universities. When Vocational Rehabilitation was classed as medical treatment back in 2011, many thought this would indicate a change in the way Voc Rehab could be used in North Carolina. 

Alas, this change has not come to be. This is because the true purpose behind most vocational rehabilitation situations is to stop benefits to the injured worker based on the injured worker’s failure to comply with the plan, or otherwise to apply pressure on the injured worker to settle his or her case as soon as possible. Often, the vocational counselor can be extremely annoying, sending seemingly endless streams of emails and calls and constantly hounding the injured worker to engage in job searches. This is by design. 

Who provides the Vocational Rehab Services

Normally, an approved vocational rehab specialist must be approved to work on behalf of the injured worker. Vocational rehab specialists are generally paid for their services in the same way doctors paid. The specialist helps identify the workers’ abilities, skills, the type of new skills needed, and course selection. This is typically done in an initial assessment, which is usually attended by the injured workers’ attorney as well. There may be written testing to determine the skill level of the employee with regard to the worker’s math and/or language skills. 

Subsequently, the vocational rehab specialist also assists monitors the worker’s success in applying for jobs and attending interviews. In some cases, this may include providing job leads to be followed up on by the injured worker, as well as scheduling actual job interviews. 

Technically, vocational rehab specialists do not work for the employer – though the progress the worker is making will be reported to the employer and the injured worker. But they do work for the workers compensation insurance company and this needs to be understood.  

If the vocational rehabilitation specialist is not helping the worker obtain suitable skills or suitable employment by, for instance, continually requiring the injured worker apply for jobs that are no longer available or which are clearly beyond the physical capability of the worker–the employee can seek to have a new vocational rehab specialist appointed. 

Generally, the rehab specialist will begin by preparing a return-to-work plan. The return to work plan should review all possible job options including:

  • Keeping the current job with the current employer
  • Getting a new job with a current employer
  • Job training with a current employer
  • Suitable employment with a new employer
  • Job training with a new employer
  • Vocational rehabilitation to get ready for a new job
  • Other possibilities including self-employment

Workers who refuse to comply with a vocational rehab plan ordered by the North Carolina Industrial Commission  may lose their compensation benefits until they do comply with the plan.

Most workers comply with new training requirements. They may object to unreasonable demands by the specialist – such as applying to jobs they have no chance of getting.

Experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers understand when it is likely that a vocational rehabilitation expert will be hired and how to prepare the injured worker in dealing with the often rigorous demands of vocational rehabilitation.  

As with most laws, some exceptions may apply – some severely injured workers may not be required to learn a new trade or skill – because there’s no reason to expect they will be hired. In other words, if it would be futile for the injured worker to be required to engage in vocational rehabilitation, due to their level of impairment, lack of education, and age, then a motion may be made by the attorney to excuse the injured worker from having to participate in vocational rehabilitation. 

The employee does not have to reach maximum medical improvement in order to be required to engage in vocational rehabilitation. Generally, employers or employees can ask for vocational rehabilitation if the worker hasn’t returned to work or if he or she is earning less than 75% of his/her average weekly wages and are receiving other approved benefits.

The vocational rehabilitation plan should be in writing and tailored to the individual worker’s needs.

Attorney Joe Miller fights for all injured workers. He has decades of experience working with vocational rehabilitation specialists. He understands when employers and insurance companies are truly interested in helping an employee get a new job and when the employer (or insurance company) is just trying to terminate a worker’s benefits or apply pressure to settle.  To learn if you are likely to end up in vocational rehabilitation, call attorney Joe Miller at 1-(888) 667-8295 or use my contact form to make an appointment.

Impairment Ratings and North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Claims

Posted on Tuesday, May 14th, 2019 at 11:11 am    

Even if an injured worker has returned to work, he or she may qualify for additional weeks of workers’ compensation pay if they lose function of a key body part. The benefits will be adjusted according to the injury impairment rating. The rating is given as a percentage rating by the injured worker’s authorized treating doctor.

There are different classifications of work injury disability in North Carolina. The main four are:

  • Temporary total disability. (TTD) Many workers are able to return to work after treatment with the doctors, therapists, and other health providers, but for now, are either held out of work completely by their doctors, or can prove that they are unable to find work within their physical restrictions;  
  • Total and permanent disability. Some workers are never able to return work at all on a permanent basis due to their injuries and are entitled to ongoing compensation for life.
  • Temporary partial disability. (TPD) In the middle, are the workers who can return to work with restrictions at a lower-paying job. They get 2/3rds of the difference between the lower-paying and pre-injury job
  • Extended compensation. A new category passed in 2011, once an injured worker reaches 425 weeks of compensation, if he or she can prove that the employee has sustained a total loss of wage-earning capacity, the employee may receive compensation beyond the 500-week limit; however, this Award can be challenged if the worker if the defendants can prove the worker is no longer disabled.

North Carolina generally pays these workers 2/3rds of their average weekly wage during the time they aren’t working. When workers return to their job with restrictions, they are paid a portion of their average weekly wages which is apportioned based on how much money they are earning at the lower- paying job.

There is one more type of condition that can result in additional wage loss payments (generally 2/3rds of the average weekly wage), even if the injured worker has returned to work. This condition is called a permanent partial impairment. Also called PPI or PPD payments.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission defines this category as follows: “Permanent disability is not a purely medical condition. A patient is ‘permanently disabled’ if ‘under a permanent disability’ when his actual or presumed ability to engage in gainful activity is reduced or absent because of ‘impairment’ and no fundamental or marked change in the future can be expected.”

Essentially, a doctor reviews the various parts of the worker’s body to see if there are any parts (such as the motion of an ankle) that the worker can’t use. The doctor then determines what percentage of that bodily function has been damaged and assigns a percentage (called an impairment rating) to the damage part of the body.

For example, if worker’s foot motion is limited due to the workplace injury, the doctor will assign the following percentages:

Limitation of motion of ankle

  • Motion between 90 degrees and 120 degrees = 10%
  • Motion between 100 degrees and 115 degrees = 25%
  • Motion between 105 degrees and 110 degrees = 50%

The impairment rating evaluation by the doctor is not made until the employee has reached what is called – Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). Workers do have the right to treat with all physicians and therapists to try to get healthy enough to return to work. There comes a time, though, when additional medical treatment won’t improve the worker’s condition. While the worker may still be entitled to medical benefits if the treatments prevent his/her condition from worsening, the worker’s right to additional wage loss benefits is re-evaluated. The re-evaluation requires a physical examination by a physician who typically refers the injured worker for an extensive workup with a physical therapist facility.

As mentioned, the physician reviews which body part or medically related part is not functioning. The physician than assigns a rating. Generally, today, physicians no longer perform the impairment rating. Rather, specialized physical therapists perform detailed testing on the injured body parts during an extensive test called a Functional Capacity Exam, or FCE.  These physical therapists do the impairment rating use guidelines established by the American Medical Association.  After the testing is performed, the results will be sent to the doctor and the doctor will decide if he or she is willing to sign off on the testing results. Most of the time, they do.

That being said, FCE’s and the AMA guidelines are just that – guidelines. The doctor can assign the impairment rating on his/her own – based on “the examining doctor’s independent opinion based on his own knowledge, experience and clinical examination.”

Usually, the employer’s insurance company will choose the FCE facility that does the initial impairment rating/FCE Testing. The employee, in North Carolina, does have the right to get a second opinion on the rating at an doctor of his or her choosing– paid for by the employer, not the employee.

The amount of pay due a worker with an impairment is based on the following three factors:

  • The number of weeks the state has preset as a maximum for that specific type of injury. These numbers are set forth in Section 97-31 of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act.
  • That number is multiplied by the impairment rating percentage
  • The resulting number is then multiplied by the workers average weekly wage figure (adjusted by 2/3rds)

In the reduced range of motion of the ankle example:

  • Workers who lose the entire use of their ankle/foot are entitled to work loss benefits for up to 144 weeks.
  • If a worker’s impairment rating is 25%, then the number of weeks is cut to 25% of 144 weeks = 36 weeks.
  • The worker then receives 2/3rds of his/her average weekly wage for 36 weeks. So– if the average weekly wage were $1000.00, then 2/3rds of that figure would be $666.67. That is the compensation rate of $666.67 x 36 weeks, which gives us a payment to the injured worker of $24,000.00 for his or her permanent partial impairment to that body part.

Note that these payments ARE NOT in addition to the maximum of 500 weeks of benefits and one cannot receive these payments for. Unless the worker has been determined to be totally disabled per the rules or entitled to extended compensation, 500 weeks is the limit.

The permanent partial impairment benefit therefore really only becomes important where the injured worker has returned to work at the same pay as pre-injury. Then, with the help of an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer, the worker may be entitled to a lump sum payment instead of having to wait the 24 weeks to get his/her physical impairment benefit.

Section 97-31 covers the loss of hearing or the loss of vision (one eye or both) in addition to the loss of use or the amputation of any limbs, hands, feet, finger or toes. Additional payments can also be made for disfigurement or scarring. The loss of use of important bodily organs is also covered.

Workers need to be careful. They should review their disability payment rights and overall workers’ compensation rights with an experienced lawyer.   Once the worker accepts a permanent partial disability, they can continue to receive medical benefits – provided the medical benefits are helping the worker. This could further form the basis of a potential settlement with the insurance company—even if the injured worker has returned to work.

Joe Miller Esq., understands when workers should claim the impairment disability benefits. We work to verify the injury and the impairment rating. We recommend settlement when it is in the worker’s best interest. We’ve been fighting for injured workers for over 31 years. For help with all phases of your workers’ compensation claim, call attorney Joe Miller at 1-(888) 667-8295 or complete my contact form to schedule an appointment.

New Workers’ Compensation Trends

Posted on Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 at 3:08 pm    

Sometimes, we like to look at the broad trends in the workers’ compensation arena. These trends can help anticipate new changes to the North Carolina and Virginia worker’s compensation laws. They can help us understand what limits and expansions of benefits might apply – particularly for medical and vocational benefits. Trends help understand why workers get injured, what can be done to reduce the risk of injury, and what medical benefits may help the worker. Trends can also address the administrative end so that claims are filed faster and decisions are made on a quicker basis.

According to Managed OutSource Solutions Medical Record Review, these are some of the new trends and concerns for 2019:

  • Many states have adopted Medicaid Expansion. Medicaid expansion may help low-wage workers get medical treatment when workers’ compensation is untimely or when an accident isn’t covered by state workers’ compensation insurance.
  • As prescription drug costs continue to increase, new strategies are being developed to address the high cost of these drugs.
  • With each new election cycle, state administrations may change power. There may be changes in Governorships, state House seats, and state Senator seats. These officials help decide who the next workers’ compensation Commissioners will be. We saw this not long ago in North Carolina, which has turned decidedly Republican. As a result, the workers compensation system in North Carolina as well as the personal injury laws underwent a massive change toward less rights for injured workers in 2011. And in 2019, the Industrial Commission, as a result of republican appointments, has become far more conservative and company-oriented than in previous years.  But there are sometimes benefits to change. Many states, including Virginia, now have statutes to help first responders (police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians) get their workers’ compensation benefits faster and to cover injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder and heart disease. Some states are making payments to the spouses of first responders a priority in the case of the tragic death of a first responder.
  • A possible new trend is to focus more on the emotional and psychological scars of any workplace injury. New treatment plans may be compensable. Doctors may be encouraged to help workers get evaluations and treatments for this side of their pain. Workers may be more encouraged to seek treatment with psychologists and mental health professionals.
  • There will be more reviews of the American Medical Association (AMA) impairment guidelines. Doctors use these AMA guidelines to determine a worker’s level of physical impairment in a specific body part. The relationship between physical impairment and loss of earning capacity due to that impairment might become part of the analysis of an employee’s work injury claim and his/her permanent partial impairment rating, especially if there is a permanent and total disability.
  • Another trend will focus on such issues as safe housing, transportation access and other socioeconomic factors. For example, the review states that “Many insurers are already addressing these concerns by providing meal replacement delivery services after surgery and also caregiver services for food preparation and companionship.”
  • The use of telemedicine as a way of improving the patient’s health and providing access to more physician service will be explored. Telemedicine may be especially useful for workers who can’t get a ride to see their physicians. Telemedicine also gives employees a chance to speak with specialists who aren’t local to where the worker lives.
  • As claims adjusters are retiring, new claims adjusters will need be trained
  • Employers are now offering more leave of absence programs and more enticements for workers as the economy begins to rebound. Employers, according to the Review, claim that leave of absence programs are more than just an enticement. They help companies keep employees.
  • Newer workers are more likely to be injured because they don’t have the training and experience to handle complex tools, machines, and business requirements.

Insurance industry trends

Heffernan Insurance Brokers provides the following trend review for California. Some of their trends should be taken with a grain of salt as insurance companies favor the employers who hire them. Insurance companies are not the worker’s friend when there are disputes.

Many of these trends may become trends for North Carolina and Virginia:

  • “Evidence based-medicine” is helping workers get improved treatments, better medications, and better access to doctors
  • Some companies, such as Starbucks, are using self-reporting system that let employees self-report when they first have an accident rather than going through the company manager. The process involves more technology including a workers’ compensation call center, direct-deposit of workers’ pay, and other benefits.
  • Employers are recognizing they can help their employees through early intervention. Musculoskeletal ailments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics account for nearly 13% of all worker injury and illness claims. These disorders include back injuries, muscle strains, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Early medical care can help the worker get the care he/she needs and return to work sooner.
  • Like the Managed Outsource Solution study, Heffernan believes that telemedicine will be a major workers’ health trend. In addition to providing physical care, telemedicine is being used to provide psychological care. Workers with mental health problems find that speaking with a counselor or doctor directly through the Internet is more comfortable than driving to an office, seeing other patients, and having to work with office personnel. Telemedicine is available for desktops and smartphones.
  • Onsite triage programs. One California company uses an onsite triage program to make a quick diagnosis of a worker’s injuries and then arranges for a ride-hailing service to get the worker to the hospital as quickly as possible.
  • Robotics. Robotics are helping workers’ compensation insurance companies and doctors reduce costs while providing physical therapy, clerical help, and other services to the worker

 

Workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for more than 30 years. We’ve helped thousands of injured workers get the wage loss benefits and medical compensation they deserve. We work to keep abreast of industry trends so we can better understand how workplace accidents happen and what medical options are possible. At the core, we are strong advocates for anyone who is injured at work for any reason. To speak with a strong experienced advocate, please  call attorney Joe Miller at 1-(888) 667-8295 or fill out my contact form to make an appointment. Initial consultations are free.

 

Types of Small Reimbursements in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Posted on Friday, April 5th, 2019 at 3:06 pm    

The bulk of the payments in a North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation claim are the wage loss benefits and the medical expenses. Wage loss benefits are generally paid at the rate of 2/3rds of the worker’s average weekly wages (prior to the accident) – up to preset maximums. The wages are paid until the employee can return to work. Additional payments may be made if the worker has a full or partial permanent disability.  Adjustments to the pay are usually made if the employee can return to work but at a lower paying salary.

Medical payments cover surgeries, doctor visits, psychological counseling, and a variety of different therapies. The payments are made by the employer’s insurance company as long as the treatments are helping the worker get better. Even when an employee has reached maximum medical improvement (no additional medical care will improve his/her condition), the worker is still entitled to have the medical bills paid so that the condition doesn’t worsen. In other words, the worker is entitled to medical coverage to maintain his/her health.

Vocational rehabilitation

Some workers may not be able to return to their prior work because of the severity of their injuries. North Carolina and Virginia allow these workers to explore the option of vocational retraining. The employer may be required to pay the cost of training the worker or helping the worker get an education – up to certain limitations. Helping workers acquire new schools often means they can work in new jobs at somewhat similar pay. Speak with a skilled North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer to learn if you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation expenses.

Mileage reimbursement to the doctors

Workers often need to treat with many different doctors. Additionally, they may be required to see a doctor or health provider multiple times. Many workers, for example, can see their physical therapist several times a week for months at a time.

The cost to get these doctors can add up quickly. In North Carolina and Virginia, workers are entitled to be reimbursed for the cost to see their own doctors, to travel to an independent medical examination when requested, and for vocational rehabilitation support and schooling. The mileage reimbursement expenses continue for health care even if the worker has returned to the job – provided the worker needs the medical treatments to stay healthy.

The mileage expenses are calculated as follows:

In North Carolina, workers can claim mileage reimbursement if the round trip to the doctor or therapist is 20 miles or more. The amount the worker will receive is generally set by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. The NCIC, in turn, sets its rates based on the Standard Mileage Rate that is annually prepared by the IRS.

According to the NCIC, the mileage reimbursement rates are as follows:

“If employees travel 20 miles or more round-trip for medical treatment in workers’ compensation cases, they are entitled to collect for mileage at the rate of 25 cents a mile for travel prior to June 1, 2000;

  • 31 cents a mile for travel between June 1, 2000 and January 17, 2006;
  • 44.5 cents a mile for travel between January 18 and December 31, 2006;
  • 48.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2007;
  • 50.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and June 30, 2008;
  • 58.5 cents a mile for travel between July 1 and December 31, 2008;
  • 55 cents a mile for travel during 2009;
  • 50 cents a mile for travel during 2010; 51 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and June 30, 2011;
  • 55.5 cents a mile for travel between July 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012;
  • 56.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2013;
  • 56 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2014;
  • 57.5 cents a mile for travel between January 1 and December 31, 2015;
  • 54 cents a mile for travel on or after January 1, 2016.”

According to the IRS, the rates for 2017 are 53.5 cents per mile and for 2018, the reimbursement rate is 54.5 cents per mile.

The costs are meant to cover expenses for gasoline as well as wear and tear on the vehicle.

“The Industrial Commission has given the self-insurers and insurance carriers permission to pay drug and travel expenses directly to the employee without approval from the Commission.” This means that, normally, the worker will keep a record of the mileage and then submit the record to the employer’s insurance company. The record should include the date of the visit to the health provider, the identity and location of the healthcare provided, and the total distance traveled. North Carolina actually provides a form, called a Form 25T, upon which the worker should submit his or her mileage information to the employer.  It’s generally a good idea to mark down the odometer amount before the trip starts and at the end of the return home. The distance from your home to the health care provider can also be tracked by using Google Maps.

Generally, workers should be reimbursed within a few weeks from the time they submit their form but unfortunately there is no rule that sets for the time frame by which the employer/insurance carrier are required to reimburse the employee. Unfortunately, some carriers are delinquent in this regard and we sometimes have to file a motion with the Commission if an unreasonable amount of time has passed before payment has been received by the injured worker.  Depending on the amount of medical and/or vocational travel you are engaging in, it’s a good idea to submit mileage reimbursement requests on a monthly basis

Workers who take public transportation are generally allowed to be reimbursed for the cost of the public transportation. Workers who use their car to see their health care provider should also add in the cost of parking – if there is any.

The mileage reimbursement rates in Virginia are based on the same principles.  Virginia likes workers to:

  • Indicate the dates traveled and the addresses (the workers and the health care providers)
  • Attach a MapQuest or Google Maps printout of the directions and mileage
  • List any parking, bridge tolls, or public transportation costs. This can include the cost of a taxi.
  • In Virginia, mileage is reimbursed at 55.5 cents per mile.

 

Reimbursement includes the mileage reimbursement and the other miscellaneous costs – tolls, public transportation, and taxi. Workers should also include a statement from the healthcare provider to confirm they were at the appointment on the scheduled dates. Virginia does not have the 20-mile round requirement that North Carolina does.

At the North Carolina and Virginia Law office of Joe Miller Esq., we’ve been fighting for injured workers for more than 25 years. We fight to get our clients every amount they deserve – large and small. We’ll fight to get you approved for worker’s compensation benefits and explain which forms you need to complete to get paid. To speak with an experienced work injury lawyer, phone 1-(888) 694-7994 or fill out my contact form to schedule a free appointment.

The Settlement Process In A Virginia Workers’ Comp Case

Posted on Monday, February 18th, 2019 at 5:41 pm    

Here Virginia Workers Comp Attorney Joe Miller reviews the Settlement Process in a Virginia Workers Compensation Case. Although he is addressing his clients, if you are looking at settling your case, you can benefit from this “inside baseball” view of settlements as well.

Read the full video transcription here.

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