Workers’ Compensation Trends for 2021

Posted on Monday, December 28th, 2020 at 1:33 pm    

There are many 2020 developments that will affect workers’ compensation for both employees and employers in 2021 and the coming years. Many of these developments are related to COVID-19. Other developments, according to CMR Risk & Insurance , include the use of telemedicine, the rise of mega claims, and the rise of comorbidities.

Employers across North Carolina and Virginia are required to have workers’ compensation for their employees. The insurance should cover any accidents in the workplace regardless of fault and any occupational illnesses. The insurance should pay the workers’ medical bills and a large portion of their lost wages (generally, about 2/3rds) during the time they can’t work, or in many cases, if their employer is unable to accommodate their physical restrictions due to the work injury, for a maximum of 500 weeks. In addition, the insurance should pay for any permanent partial disability, even if the injured worker is able to return to employment. In some cases, payment for vocational rehabilitation may be required.

COVID-19 and workers’ compensation

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected workers and employers in many ways. Key compensation factors are related to the nature of the business. Some professions such as healthcare and delivery services expose workers to a greater risk of contracting the disease. Other professions, such as professional services, have less risk because the professionals can usually work remotely by using the Internet.

Employers need to consider what safety precautions to take depending on the nature of their business. Employees need to understand that workers’ compensation claims for families of workers who died due to COVID-19 and claims by workers who become ill or had to quarantine due to the disease will be handled on a case- by- case basis. Some of the questions that arise in COVID-19 workers’ compensation cases include:

  • Did the illness arise out of the scope of your employment?
  • Was the illness caused by job-specific conditions – not through conditions that the general public was also exposed to?
  • Can you prove these items via your doctors to a standard of clear and convincing evidence? 

As we discussed in previous blogs, some states are enacting laws to cover workers who develop COVID-19. Some states are also creating presumptions as to what conditions indicate a worker who developed COVID-19 – developed that condition through work. Thus far, in Virginia, a bill which would have given such presumptions to health care workers, first responders, firefighters,  and teachers who develop COVID-19 was defeated in the State Legislature earlier this year. North Carolina is still wrangling with the particulars of a similar bill before the State Legislature in Raleigh. 

Meanwhile, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission in Virginia and Industrial Commission in North Carolina are still deciding COVID-19 workers’ compensation cases on an individual basis, under the standards of an ordinary disease of life, which are difficult, but not impossible, to meet. Mega Claims

According to CMR Risk & Insurance, another new trend is that many workers are filing “mega claims” which can result in payouts (for medical bills, wages, and other expenses) of millions of dollars.These claims are usually due to workers who have severe, and often, permanent injuries. Mega claims are often due to motor vehicle accidents, accidents where the worker was struck by an object, and falls.“In some cases, however, mega claims can develop slowly—particularly when caused by minor injuries that go untreated.”

CMR reports that, according to a recent study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), these claims have reached a 12-year high—increasing in both frequency and severity. This increase has been attributed to several possible factors, such as changes in mortality patterns, medical advances, and a rise in health care costs.”

Employers are advised to take extra safety measures to help reduce the risk workers will suffer injuries that can result in mega claims.

Presumptions for first responders

According to M Power by Mitchell (a casualty and insurance company), “states are beginning to examine presumption laws for first responders and expanding coverage to conditions such as PTSD.” The issue of presumptions raises questions as to:

  • Which injuries and illnesses should be covered?
  • Whether the injuries and illnesses are related to the risks of the job?
  • Who should be covered, if anyone, beyond first responders?

For instance, Virginia this past summer passed into law what is now VA Code 65.2-107, which provides that any first responders, fire fighters and police officers who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be compensated, provided the PTSD was caused by a “qualifying event.” 

A qualifying event is defined as an event: 

  1. Resulting in serious bodily injury or death to any person or persons;
  2. Involving a minor who has been injured, killed, abused, or exploited;
  3. Involving an immediate threat to life of the claimant or another individual;
  4. Involving mass casualties; or
  5. Responding to crime scenes for investigation.

The rise in comorbidities

“A comorbidity is the simultaneous presence of two or more medical diagnoses for an individual.”

“Comorbid conditions are typically long-term health complications that have the potential to increase the severity of other injuries or illnesses that the affected individual may experience, making it more difficult to fully recover. Common comorbid conditions include obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.”

CMR states that an NCCI study found that work injury claims involving comorbidities have nearly tripled since 2000. In addition, the cost of workers’ compensation claims involving comorbidities is about twice that of other claims. This is generally because workers with comorbidities need more time to heal, are more likely to develop complications, and are at more risk of having a permanent disability.

In response to the concern about comorbidities, many employers are implementing wellness initiatives – to address chronic health problems and improve their staff’s overall fitness.

Another term to describe comorbidities are “pre-existing conditions.” The good news is that in most cases, if the work injury has even the slightest bit to do with causing the current disability, then the entire claim is compensable. The bad news is that if you are only partially disabled or on light duty, and a comorbid condition causes you to become completely disabled, that could essentially end your workers compensation claim, even if you are under an Award. 

Labor trends and workers’ compensation

Many employers are hiring workers who lack experience in order to fill their labor shortages. The problem is that workers who are inexperienced are more prone to accidents in the workplace. Part of the problem of inexperienced workers can be addressed through better training. Part of the problem, though, is that there’s simply nothing like experience to do jobs in a safer manner.

“According to a recent survey conducted by the Golden Triangle Business Roundtable in Texas, employees with less than five years of experience contribute to 43% of overall workplace injuries.” 

Another labor trend that is affecting workplace accidents is that many workers are working later in life. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that “employees over the age of 55 in the labor force are expected to increase to nearly 25% by 2024 (up from 21.7% in 2014).” Older workers generally require more time to recover from an accident than younger workers. Older workers generally have poorer balance, hearing, and vision than younger workers. They also have slower reaction times.

North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for more than 25 years. He’s helped thousands of employees get just recoveries for the injuries and illnesses which are work-related. He also keeps current with the new trends and new laws. 

If you’ve been involved in any type of workplace accident or think your illness is related to work, speak with an experienced North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation attorney. You can reach attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to schedule an appointment. Workers now can also complete our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way of communicating with clients that we’re offering – to allow workers to contact us remotely.