Archive for the ‘News Coverage’ Category

Workers Suffer From Workers’ Comp “Reform”

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For years in North Carolina and in other states, the insurance industry and big businesses have been pushing to “reform” what they’ve described as an inefficient, wasteful and costly workers’ compensation laws.

Legislators and voters have been snowed by the rhetoric, and the laws have been changed. Dismantled. Stripped down. Dehumanized.

 A system that once protected workers who were injured on the job and provided them with medical treatment and financial benefits to compensate for their injuries and help them on the long road to recovery is now woefully inadequate and harms the people it was designed to protect.

A yearlong investigation by NPR and ProPublica confirms what we have maintained for years: workers’ compensation “reform” has taken a horrible toll on injured workers and shifted cost to taxpayers, while insurance companies’ profits soared and employers’ workers’ compensation costs declined. Workers are being forced into poverty because of their injuries, and their medical care is inadequate.

“Over the past decade, state after state has been dismantling America’s workers’ comp system with disastrous consequences for many of the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer serious injuries at work each year,” the investigation revealed.

“They call them reforms. That’s a real insult to workers,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in the report.

You can read and listen to the full NPR report here and view statistics and graphs that show how workers’ rights and benefits have eroded over the last 10 years at ProPublica.

Among the findings:

  • Since 2003, 33 states, including North Carolina, have passed workers’ comp laws that reduce benefits or make it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify. Florida is the worst, cutting benefits by 65 percent since 1994.
  • Benefits vary dramatically from state to state. The same injury in one state can be worth two to three times as much in one state versus another. For example, a worker who loses an eye in Alabama is entitled to $27,280 in maximum compensation for the injury, compared to $261,525 in Pennsylvania.
  • Because of caps and arbitrary time limits on workers’ compensation, benefits are running out long before people recover. Senate Bill 174, passed in 2013 in North Carolina, changed procedures for appealing an employers’ decision to end benefits.
  • States have given employers and insurers more control over medical decisions, meaning that many injured workers aren’t getting surgeries, medicine and other medical treatment their doctors recommend.  In 37 states, including North Carolina, workers can’t pick their own doctor or are required to use a physician on a list provided by their employer or the insurance company. In North Carolina, injured workers can file a request to change doctors, but changes to the state’s workers’ compensation law have made it much more difficult to switch.
  • Despite claims that workers’ comp premiums are out of control, employers’ costs for workers’ comp insurance is the lowest it has been since the 1970s. And insurers had their most profitable year in more than a decade in 2013, raking in 18 percent in profits. They have succeeded in shifting the cost of caring for injured workers to taxpayers,  through Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid and food stamp programs.

The state of workers compensation in America has changed significantly since 1970, when Congress first established a commission to study state laws as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. According to NPR’s report:

Convened by President Richard Nixon and led by John Burton, a Republican economist and law professor, the commission unanimously concluded that state laws were “inadequate and inequitable.”

The commission made dozens of recommendations that laid the foundation for modern workers’ comp systems: Nearly every employee should be covered. Workers should be able to pick their own doctors. If employees couldn’t work, they should get two-thirds of their wages up to at least the state’s average wage. Compensation should last as long as the person is disabled, with no arbitrary caps. Spouses should receive death benefits until they remarry, children until they graduate from college.

A ProPublica analysis of state laws done in consultation with Burton found that only seven states now follow at least 15 of the recommendations made during the Nixon administration. Four states comply with fewer than half of them.

We will continue to follow this story here on our blog and the Deuterman Law Group Facebook page. Be sure to follow us there for updates, links to additional coverage and more about what you can do to protect the rights of injured workers in North Carolina.

Beware Jury Duty Scam

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If you get a phone call saying that you’re in trouble because you missed jury duty, hang up. It’s a scam.

Court officials in several North Carolina counties report scammers are calling people and telling them they owe jury duty fines and if they don’t pay, they could be arrested.

A caller informs the resident that a bench warrant (or a warrant for arrest) has been issued because the person failed to report for jury duty. The caller then instructs them to make a payment by telephone in order to satisfy the bench warrant. Sometimes the caller states that failing to pay this fine will result in a jail sentence. This is a scam.

Don’t fall for the scam. Hang up. Don’t give out any personal or financial information over the phone, including bank account details, credit card numbers or your Social Security number.

Court staff and the sheriff’s department employees NEVER contact citizens by phone or email and ask for money, or any sensitive personal or financial information. If you receive a call like this, report it to your local sheriff’s department.

If you’ve already been a victim, contact the credit reporting agencies and the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271, as well as your bank.

NC’s governor is taking away workers’ rights

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It’s been happening under the radar screen (unless you’ve been following our warnings about Gov. Pat McCrory’s unchecked power grab). The governor, his political allies and big business and insurance industry lobbyists are trying to to dismantle the N.C. workers’ compensation system.

They want to make it harder for injured workers to get the benefits and medical treatment they need and deserve — because doing so will make insurance companies and big businesses richer.

The INDY newspaper in Durham has a frankly frightening article about how McCrory has been quietly skewing the workers’ comp system. To favor business and insurance companies — at the expense of injured people. How wrong is that?

There was the provision in this summer’s final budget bill that reclassified workers’ comp judges, allowing the governor, through the newly appointed Industrial Commission chairman, to get rid of current commissioners and put in less experienced judges who will do his bidding, instead of ruling on workers’ comp cases fairly and considering the law. 

“The logic for reclassifying and replacing these career civil servants is quite clear: to get different results and fewer workers’ comp payouts, you have to replace the referees,” the newspaper reports.

The once balanced industrial commission, with judges representing the interest of both injured workers and business, no longer exists.

Under its new chairman Andrew Heath, “the Industrial Commission now also has a legislative agenda.”

Emails obtained by the INDY earlier this year showed Industrial Commission staffers—employees of an ostensibly impartial judicial body—working intimately with Sen. Thom Goolsby to craft HB369, a law sponsored by Goolsby to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving worker’s comp benefits. Heath’s law clerk wrote to Goolsby that the proposed legislation “had been discussed with, and supported by the Governor’s Office”—which would seem to indicate that the head of a judicial body was working with the Governor to get legislation passed. These records were sent to the INDY with a note from Department of Commerce media liasons that the information in the e-mail about the Governor supporting the legislation was not, in fact, correct. In a written response to questions, Heath denied any impropriety, saying the legislative work was done at Goolsby’s request and that his law clerk had simply made a “misstatement” to Thom Goolsby about Governor McCrory’s support of the controversial legislation.

Before you vote in the upcoming North Carolina midterm election on Nov. 4, you need to read the entire INDY article.

When you do, I think you’ll realize it’s more important than ever to vote for candidates who support workers’ rights and not those who are puppets for the insurance industry. We need checks and balances in our government and we need to stop this underhanded assault on hardworking North Carolinians. and their legal rights.

Download a copy of a our 2014 North Carolina Voters Guide to take with you to the polls on Nov. 4.

N.C. veterans can report problems with VA treatment via confidential hotline

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Undoubtedly, you have heard news reports about the VA scandal that has sparked a wide-ranging investigation into Department of Veterans’ Affairs treatment of veterans seeking health care and benefits.

It’s a story of substandard care, scheduling nightmares and delayed life-saving medical procedures. And fear — with VA doctors, patients and many VA workers afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal. In fact, the scandal may not have come to light but for whistleblowers.

The N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs has established  a hotline where veterans can confidentially share stories of misconduct and substandard care at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the state, according to the News & Observer.

You can call the hotline, toll free, at 844-624-8387 or file a confidential report by sending an email to [email protected]

The state hotline connects to NCVA executive staff, who will forward tips to the appropriate federal authorities investigating the VA scandal.

The N.C. hotline was started because the state veterans agency received credible “specific allegations of misconduct at USVA medical facilities in North Carolina,” according to news reports.

“Our goal with the Vet Tip Hotline is to be constructive, systematic and transparent,”  state Veterans Affairs Director Ilario said. “We are not looking for scapegoats but rather solutions to get our veterans the care they deserve.”

Two Durham VA Medical Center employees were put on leave in May for “inappropriate scheduling practices,” CNN reported.

In addition to the N.C. hotline, veterans can report wrongdoing to the VA’s Office of Inspector General by calling 800-488-8244 or sending an email to [email protected]

 

Tribute to Todd Martinez

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I wanted to take a moment today to pay tribute to High Point Firefighter Todd Martinez who died last weekend after a hit-and-run bicycle crash.

Anytime I hear of a death like this, I am saddened because accidents like these don’t have to happen if only drivers would share the road and give cyclists the respect they deserve. But Martinez was more than a name on the news for us here at Deuterman Law Group.

He was one of the first responders who joined us a few years ago in our fight against the bad workers’ comp reform bills. He was even featured in one of our television ads for Protect N.C. Workers

I am still grateful to Martinez and the other first responders who stood with us in fighting that bad series of bills. They were instrumental in defeating the worst provisions of the proposed legislation.

We are heartbroken over the loss of a hero like Todd Martinez. From our own experience with him and what we have learned after his death, we know Martinez was a leader, a professional, a hero, a family man, a loving husband and father of four, a true friend and a giver, even after death. (Martinez was an organ donor, and through this tragedy, he will help others.) He was also committed to educating teen drivers about dangerous and deadly behaviors, like texting while driving

As High Point Fire Chief Reid said in an interview, “He is going to be sorely missed.”

Martinez and his wife Melanie were riding their bikes Sunday on Scalesville Road near their home in Summerfield, enjoying the unexpected springlike weather, I’m sure. A red truck struck Martinez from behind, then left the scene. 

Police have charged Andrew B. Barham, 19, with felony hit-and-run.

Chief Reid described Martinez as “passionate about life.”

In the time that the Deuterman Law Group worked with Martinez on the Protect N.C. Workers campaign, we also witnessed his professionalism and his passion for promoting and protecting worker safety.

His death is a great loss, foremost for his family, friends and fellow firefighters, but also for our community. We lost a man who devoted his life to protecting people and standing up for others.

I can’t write about Todd Martinez’s tragic — and preventable death — without remembering another friend and local cyclist who died in much the same way. Cyclist David Sherman, whose wife was a teacher at our children’s school, died in 2009 after a motorist struck him on North Church Street. She also left the scene. 

Martinez and Sherman are among six bicycle fatalities in Guilford County since 2009. Nationwide 800 cyclists are killed ever year and 43,000 are injured every year in collisions with motorists. 

For Martinez and Sherman and the other cyclists who have lost their lives, we must learn to share the roads. Cyclists have as much right to be there as we do in our cars and trucks and SUVs. 

If you are a driver or a cyclist, I beg you to read and heed these safety tips so we can share the road without more tragedies.

Do it for Todd Martinez. Please.

If you’d like to honor Martinez in another way, I encourage you to make a donation to VIP for a VIP, a program to teach students about fatal accidents involving teens. His family has asked for donations to the Todd Martinez Texting & Driving Fund, 2406 Farm Gate Road, Browns Summit, NC 27214. 

 

 

 

 

Deuterman Law Group blog in the news

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The Winston-Salem Journal here in North Carolina published an article this week about law firms that blog.

The Deuterman Law Group is leading the pack. While some firms are just now launching blogs, we’ve been using the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law Blog to keep clients informed for more than a year.