Vision Loss in North Carolina Workers Compensation

Posted on Monday, April 10th, 2017 at 9:20 pm    

Some work injures are much worse than others. Many injuries such as broken bones do heal over time. Some injuries may slow the worker down but don’t prevent the worker from working entirely. Unfortunately, there are some workplace injuries that tragically alter an employee’s life forever. Loss of vision is one of those catastrophic injuries. (more…)

Attorney’s Fees in North Carolina and Virginia Workers’ Compensation Cases

Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2016 at 2:00 pm    

The legal fees in North Carolina work injury cases are regulated by state law. All legal fees must be approved by the North Carolina Industrial Commission or Virginia Workers Compensation Commission. Most attorneys such as Joe Miller Esq. handle workers’ compensation cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that the injured client may only owe minimal fees in the earlier stages of the case, unless and until the case is settled. When cases settle and an Order is entered, the employer or the insurance company is ordered to pay the injured worker a specific lump sum to the attorney.

Insofar as the earlier fees, there are no ‘up front’ or retainer fees on workers comp cases.

After the attorney has performed some work on the case, or in Virginia, after obtaining an Award for the client, whether by agreement or otherwise, the Commission will typically Award a small fee such as $500.00 or $1000.00 to the attorney. The money is not taken out of the client’s money all at once, but the Comp Carrier will typically agree to pay the attorney between $25.00 and $100.00 per week out of the claimant’s comp check, taking into account the amount of each week’s check.

In North Carolina, if the attorney wins some kind of significant Motion on behalf of the client, the Industrial Commission will typically Award the attorney every 4th Comp Check (25%). Most of the time in North Carolina cases, this does not occur. The only fees ultimately paid relate to settlement.

The advantages of hiring an experienced North Carolina or Virginia work injury lawyer are many. Attorney Joe Miller has helped thousands of injured workers get strong recoveries. He has been fighting for injured workers for over 25 years. His experience and tough advocacy helps clients demand all the benefits the law allows.

The benefits include more than just obtaining your weekly compensation checks. They include payment for all types of medical bills such as hospital bills, doctor visits, medical devices and medications. Injured workers may also be entitled to vocational rehabilitation, travel expenses, and other benefits. Most importantly, a skilled lawyer fights to get the right classification of injuries for the workers. An experienced lawyer also works with your medical team when the employer tries to force the worker back to work too soon.

Common legal charges

The main legal expense is the overall contingency fee. There are also some other expenses that the lawyer may be allowed. The common legal fees are:

  • The Final Contingency Fee at Settlement. The main legal expense for the injured worker is the contingency fee. For example, the lawyer and client may sign an agreement that the attorney is entitled to twenty five or twenty percent of any recovery. If there is an overall full and final settlement of past and future comp payments plus a medical settlement, then they attorney gets one lump sum payment which is deducted from the settlement. North Carolina generally will authorize 25% of the recovery for legal fees. In Virginia, the amount is typically 20% of the recovery.

 

The 25% or 20% fee applies to even the most experienced lawyers. So, there is no real advantage in hiring a new or less skilled lawyer to get lower fees. Because the fees are capped at these amounts, injured workers should look to hire the experienced and highly skilled lawyers for their case.

 

The percentage does not apply to payment for past expenses such as medical bills. These are usually not part of the contingency fee and doctors and hospitals are normally paid directly by the employer without the lawyer getting a percentage of the medical bill; however, in Virginia, (not North Carolina), in a denied claim, your attorney may enter into a separate fee agreement with your medical providers to obtain a contingency fee once the providers are paid by the workers comp insurance company. That fee will not affect your fee agreement between you and your attorney.

 

The Smaller Early Attorney fee Awards in Virginia. In Virginia, if the attorney is able to secure an Award for the client, either through a hearing or Agreement, the Commission will typically Award the attorney a small fee, usually between $500 and $1000.00 It will usually only be larger if the Award results in the worker receiving a large lump sum of back pay owed. In that case, the Award may equal up to 20% of the back pay Awarded. If there is no back pay Award to draw from, the fee is not taken all at once, but satisfied through weekly payments deducted from the worker’s ongoing workers comp checks. The amount paid each week to the lawyer is adjusted based on what the worker can best afford.

 

Medical records. While the workers’ compensation lawyer is generally not paid a percentage of the medical bill, the attorney is entitled to be reimbursed for the cost of obtaining medical records and reports. In most workers compensation cases, the workers’ compensation lawyer will advance the funds to get the medical records and reports from the doctors who are treating the injured worker. The records are basically the office notes and other doctor or facility records and the charges are usually fairly small.

The larger fees may come into play if the doctor is asked to answer important questions in writing that are critical to the worker’s claim. The report will usually say that in the doctor’s reasonable medical opinion, the worker’s diagnosis and prognosis is whatever matches the true facts of the case.

 

  • Deposition costs. The North Carolina Industrial Commission recognizes that the time of the doctors is valuable – they should be spending their time helping people with injuries get better. For this reason, instead of appearing in court, the attorney for the employer and the lawyer for the injured worker will depose the doctor if necessary to determine the workers’ condition. Doctors’ depositions in North Carolina will usually take place within 60 days after the hearing. Doctors can charge up to several thousand dollars for their deposition. A qualified stenographer will also have a fee. Lawyers who advance the deposition costs are entitled to be reimbursed.

In Virginia, doctor’s depositions are usually not required, but if taken, need to occur before the hearing takes place. The same applies insofar as the attorney being reimbursed for advancing those costs.

 

In addition, oftentimes the defense lawyer may depose the Plaintiff in North Carolina (referred to as the Claimant in Virginia). If your attorney orders a copy of the transcript, there are costs associated with that as well.

Finally, depending on the facts of your case, there may be eyewitnesses or other witnesses whose testimony is critical to pursue or defend your claim. There are obviously costs for such transcripts as well.

 

  • Free consultations. Most work injury lawyers provide free consultations. Our firm has what we call our Free Seven-Step Elite Case Evaluation Process that only takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. The first time you see or speak with our firm you will speak with our intake specialist on the phone.

 

The intake specialist will typically ask you precise questions about your specific situation, which questions constitute our Seven-Step Evaluation Process. Based on such items as the facts of the accident, your injuries, and other factors – the lawyer will be presented with your responses to these questions then decide whether you have a chance of success or if it is a case our firm is best suited to handle.

 

The consultation is also a chance for the injured employee to have his or her case reviewed by an experienced profession and it is absolutely free.

 

If both sides agree to pursue the workers’ compensation claim, then the lawyer will prepare a fee agreement to be signed by the lawyer and the client.

 

  • Mediation Costs. In North Carolina, there are costs involved if the case mediates, which are costs advanced by the attorney. In Virginia, this process is a free service provided by the Commission.

 

  • Proper representation. A skilled lawyer understands that if you reach an overall settlement of your case, often times through the mediation process, that you can’t come back later and ask for more money. This is why a good lawyer reviews all of your expenses before settlement and also reviews some of the problems that might arise after settlement such as new medical problems.

 

  • Court filing fees. Generally there is not a court filing fee to process your North Carolina worker’s compensation case. In personal injury actions, the injured person normally has to pay some funds upfront to get into court. Workers’ compensation cases are different. There are usually no or little fees to process a work injury claim.

North Carolina Industrial Commission and Virginia Workers Comp Commission rules on legal fees

The lawyer normally files the fee agreement with the Commission. It is the same in Virginia. If the fee is reasonable, the lawyer’s fees are approved. If the Commission finds that the fees are unreasonable, the reasons are given. The lawyer then can Appeal the decision to the Full Commission.

Some of the factors the Commission will review are the time spent on the case, the amount involved, the results achieved, whether the fee is contingent of fixes, what other lawyers normally charge, the experience level of the lawyer, and the overall nature of the lawyer’s services.

Contact an Strong Advocate for your North Carolina Worker’s or Virginia Compensation Case

Experience matters. Because lawyers take work injury cases on a contingency fee basis and because legal fees are usually capped, it makes good sense to hire an attorney such as Joe Miller who has a strong track record. If you were injured on the job, contact attorney Joe Miller for help at 888-667-8295. You can also complete the online form to schedule an appointment.

Choosing a Doctor in North Carolina Work Injury Cases

Posted on Wednesday, July 13th, 2016 at 2:00 pm    

North Carolina has specific rules for doctor selection if you suffer a workplace injury or illness. Employees are usually directed to a doctor by the employer, unless they underwent emergency surgery in the hospital. In such cases, the surgeon will usually continue on as the treating physician.

Employees may be able to switch to a different doctor if the employer is not cooperative, or the treating doctor is not appropriately trying to help the worker get healthy; however, it should be realized that it is not an easy thing to switch a treating physician in North Carolina. Specific procedures must be followed, or the worker could be stuck with the bill, or even worse, receive treatment from a physician whose opinions will count for nothing before the Industrial Commission. This will be discussed in this article.

Workers may also be required by the employer to submit to an independent medical exam by a physician chosen by the insurance company. This will be discussed further below.

You are also entitled to have an independent medical examination with a doctor typically agreed upon by your attorney and the defense attorney. If the sides cannot agree, the Commission will choose a doctor for the Independent Examination. This will also be discussed below.

Joe Miller has helped thousands of North Carolina workers get strong recoveries. He fights aggressively to help the worker get the medical relief he or she needs to return to maximum health. This fight includes arguing that the worker should have more control over the doctors that treat him or her. Joe Miller Esq. has worked with workers, doctors, and insurance companies for over 25 years. He is ready to help guide you through the medical stage of your worker’s compensation case so you can maximize your chances for a healthy recovery or for a proper diagnosis of all your medical problems.

The initial doctor visit

When an employee is hurt on an accident, he or she should, if possible, inform the employer or a supervisor of his/her injuries. The employer or supervisor often will then direct the worker to see the company doctor or another doctor of the employer or worker’s compensation insurance company’s choosing. If the employer does not have the time or ability to contact the employer/supervisor, the worker can get help from a local hospital or physician of the worker’s choosing – but must promptly request approval from the employer or the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

The employee must always make every effort to be careful to give an appropriate history of the work injury to the doctor and hospital. Many cases have hit snags because the employee didn’t tell the doctor and the hospital about how he or she was injured at work. If the medical records are missing that information, it could have a serious negative impact on your case.

The authorized treating doctor

Generally, if there was not initial surgical treatment, the work will be directed to a doctor by the worker’s compensation insurance company or employer. Workers cannot initially choose their own doctor or pick their own doctor in North Carolina and unless there are circumstances which justify it, the Commission will not pay attention to the opinions of any such physician chosen by the worker without Commission approval.

If we are involved in the initial stages of the case, and we have the opportunity to do so, we will protest if there is a referral by the insurance company to a doctor who is an infamous and proven advocate for the insurance companies. There are simply some doctors you must stay away from.

We make every effort to provide a list of alternate physicians and steer the worker away from the clutches of such doctors.

The right to ask for a change of doctors

Employees should review with an experienced North Carolina work injury attorney their right to ask to see another doctor. Workers have rights to select other doctors but only if the he or she gets approval from the North Carolina Industrial Commission. This is crucial in North Carolina because generally the Commission is going to ignore the opinions of any unauthorized physicians.

Workers have the right to ask for a change in treating physician if it is clear the initial treating doctor is not curing the injury or illness, or otherwise refuses to treat the worker. As noted above, switching doctors is not necessarily an easy thing to do in North Carolina. If the employee elects to attempt to seek treatment elsewhere and has the means to pay for it, he or she should always first request, in writing, authorization from the employer and workers compensation insurance company for the requested treatment, and await a reasonable time for response. We recommend this be done through certified mail.

The reason for the written request is because if you fail to ask for authorization before treatment, then the law says that the Industrial Commission may “disregard or give less weight” to the opinions of such a health care provider that you simply went out and chose on your own. This is why it is critically important that you not just seek treatment on your own, but always request authorization first, in writing. If a dispute arises, you must be able to prove to the Commission that you made the request and it was denied or never responded to appropriately.

Your Right to an IME 2nd Opinion Exam. As a separate right, exercised more frequently, employees can also ask for a second opinion examination with an agreed-upon physician on all medical issues, which is to be paid for by the workers compensation insurance company. Note that this is not medical treatment, this is simply an independent, one-time examination.

Your Right to a Ratings Exam. In addition, as an additional right, if the worker is dissatisfied with a partial disability rating by the treating doctor, he or she may choose a doctor to perform a partial disability rating. This is again a one-time exam, also paid for by the worker’s compensation insurance company; however, the “employee’s choice” rating examination must only relate to the percentage rating. The Commission will generally not pay attention to any opinions the ratings doctor may have, other than in relation to the rating itself.

Requesting a new doctor may prove to be important for several core reasons.

  • The first is that you want to get the best medical care you can get. If the treating doctor is rushing you back to work, or not ordering the proper tests, you are not getting the best care. Your ability to work is your livelihood. You have the right to be treated by competent doctors who have your health interests at heart.
  • The second is that the medical diagnosis and treatment directly affects your wage loss benefits.
    • The treating doctor is the doctor who normally classifies the type of disability the worker has – temporary total, permanent total, or permanent partial impairment to a specific body part.
    • The initial treating doctor will normally indicate if the worker can return to work;
    • The treating doctor reports what work restrictions may apply—you cannot obtain benefits without knowing about these restrictions and having a current work note signed by the treating doctor.
    • The treating doctor also assigns disability ratings which are used in the case of workers with partial disabilities.
  • The third is that the medical diagnosis dictates what medical bills are paid. This includes more than just the doctor visits. It includes payment for medical devices, physical therapy, diagnostic tests such as MRI’s and CT scans, prescription expenses, and pain management.

Very specific procedures have been developed in the last couple of years in an attempt to “streamline” and speed up the hearing of medical treatment disputes before the Industrial Commission. It is crucial that you work with an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney such as Joe Miller Esq. who will help you explain to the Commission why a change of doctors is required and how to request approval for a change.

The Defense Independent medical examination (IME)

The employer and insurance company can, at any time, require that the worker submit to an independent medical exam with a doctor of their choosing. Generally, the employer seeks an independent medical exam, IME, if the employer or insurance company thinks the employee is ready to return to work or if the insurance company does not want to pay for an expensive surgery or other procedure recommended by your treating physician.

Your workers’ compensation lawyer should explain that the IME is not an objective opinion. It is usually an effort by the employer to get the worker to return to work so benefits can be terminated, or to wiggle out of paying for additional medical expenses.

That being said, employees must attend an IME, or run the danger of losing all benefits. We have very specific recommendations that we provide to all of our clients as to how to behave in a defense Independent Examination.

Some additional medical concerns in North Carolina Worker’s Compensation Cases

Nurse Case Managers. In North Carolina, employers can also require that employees work with nurse case managers. Nurse case managers are supposed to help the employee get proper medical guidance. Generally, though, the nurse case manager works for the employer and insurance company and not the employee. Workers should know their rights if they are assigned a nurse case manager. Our experience in North Carolina is that some can be actual patient advocates, and look out for the worker, while others are simply in cahoots with the insurance carrier and have no interest in helping the worker.

Chiropractic treatment. Employees are allowed up to 20 chiropractic visits if the employer grants permission to work with a chiropractor. Additional visits may be authorized if the employer agrees.

Get Strong Medical Advice for Your Work Injury Case

To get the best medical and wage loss results, it is important that you get treatment from the best doctors. For strong counsel and for a lawyer who understands the medical requirements in North Carolina work injury cases, contact attorney Joe Miller at 888-694-1671 and ask for Joe Miller, or complete his online contact form for an appointment.

Types of Disability in North Carolina Workers Compensation Cases

Posted on Monday, July 11th, 2016 at 2:00 pm    

Injured workers are entitled to wage loss benefits based on the type of disability they have. Disability is a legal term of art that an experienced North Carolina workers compensation attorney can explain. Worker’s compensation disability determines how long the injured employee gets benefits and what the amount of those benefits are. The correct classification can mean more money and money for a longer period of time.

Workers who have lost limbs, lost an ear, or suffer from severe pain that won’t ever go away should be paid according to their disability – not because the employer or insurance company wants to rush them back to work or wants to save money. North Carolina attorney Joe Miller has been helping injured workers for over a quarter century. He has helped thousands of injured workers get strong recoveries. He has the experience and skills to work with medical doctors and to fight unreasonable classifications.

The four main types of North Carolina work injury disability

Disability in workers’ compensation is different than Social Security Disability and it is different than disability in an insurance contract. Disability, in North Carolina work injury cases, means the employee cannot do the work he/she did before the accident or illness. Workers who can work but with medical restrictions may be entitled to partial benefits, or even full benefits if their employer cannot accommodate them or if they can show that they cannot find work within their physical restrictions.

In order to obtain wage loss benefits, a worker, with the help of an experienced work injury lawyer such as Joe Miller, must show that he/she has one of the following types of disability:

  • Temporary total disability. Many workers are unable to work for a limited period time. When their injuries mend, they are ready to return to work. While they are getting medical attention, these workers are entitled to 2/3rds of their pre-injury wages. When they return to employment, they get their pre-injury salary. Temporary benefits can last for up to 500 weeks if the injury or illness occurred after June 24, 2011.
  • Permanent and total disability. Some workers can never return to work. Their injury or occupational illness is too severe. Workers who reach Maximum Medical Improvement and still cannot work at all may be entitled to additional work loss benefits for life, if, after 425 weeks of receiving temporary total disability, they can show to the Industrial Commission that they are unable to work in any capacity. Workers who have lost the use of both hands, both arms, both legs, both feet, have a severe brain injury , or some combination are generally presumed to be unable to work permanently. There are other presumptions the law offices of Joe Miller Esq. can explain.
  • Temporary partial disability. Here the worker has the ability to do some work, but not the same level of income as before the work injury or occupational illness. The worker gets 2/3rds of the difference between what he/she earned before the disability and what he/she can earn after the disability for up to 500 weeks if the injury or illness occurred after June 24, 2011.

For example, if the worker earned $1000 a week pre-injury and now earns $400 a week, the worker gets 2/3 of $600 ($1,000 minus 400) for a total of $400. Payments are made on a weekly basis until the worker can return to work at full capacity and thus earn his/her full wage.

  • Permanent partial impairment. This is money paid for injuries to specific, ratable body parts. It is calculated on the basis of a percentage of disability to a particular body part which percentage is assigned by the injured worker’s treating physician. These benefits fall under North Carolina General Statutes Section 97-31. This statute includes a schedule of injuries by type and awards the worker benefits according to the schedule. For example, a worker who loses the use of a thumb is entitled to 2/3rds of the average weekly wage for 75 weeks. Another example: If a worker is found to have a 10% disability to the back, that benefit would be 10% of the maximum benefit of 300 weeks for the back, or 30 weeks.

One major caveat: The worker cannot get both the fully weekly benefits for 500 weeks and the scheduled benefit. The worker must elect between the standard weekly disability benefit and the scheduled benefit. The most common cases where the percentage ratings come up are where the injured worker has returned to pre-injury employment. In such cases, the worker’s only additional benefits may be permanent partial impairment.

Employers will often try to encourage doctors to force workers back to work before they are ready. They will also contest the most serious classifications. They will argue that workers have a temporary disability and not a permanent disability. They will assert that a disability is only partial instead of full. They will argue that the injuries are pre-existing and not related to the accident. An experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer such as Joe Miller will work with your doctors and will make strong legal arguments to help convince the Industrial Commission that your classification matches your inability to work.

How disability affects medical benefits

The type of disability a worker has does not affect the payment of medical bills. All workers, regardless of the type of disability they have, are entitled to seek medical attention to help them get healthy – if they have suffered a workplace accident or illness. Workers can continue to get medical help until it is clear that continued medical help will not improve the workers’ condition – that the worker has reached maximum medical improvement.

If a doctor says an employee can work but with medical restrictions – then the employer and insurance company must pay for any medical expenses to meet those restrictions. Workers with partial disabilities may require medical devices such as prosthetics or medications in order to work.

Workers with a temporary or partial disability may require occupational therapy to learn how to adjust their body to old or new work demands. They employer must pay for this type of rehabilitation. Employers may also be obligated to pay for the travel expenses to see the doctors and to get the proper therapy.

Joe Miller thoroughly and aggressively argues for more than just wage loss benefits. He is a strong advocate for his clients and works to get all related medical bills for any type of disability.

For help with workers compensation disability claims, consult North Carolina work injury lawyer Joe Miller

At the Law Office of Joe Miller, our legal team works to make sure work injuries are classified correctly. For help now, please call attorney Joe Miller at 888-694-1671 and ask for Joe Miller, or email Joe at jmiller@joemillerinjurylaw.com.

What Does Permanency Rating Mean?

Posted on Monday, February 22nd, 2016 at 5:59 pm    

Our latest video update helps explain what a permanency rating means in Virginia and North Carolina Workers’ Compensation cases:

What Do I Do If My Workers’ Compensation Check is Late?

Posted on Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 at 10:43 am    

Please watch this video to learn more about what you can do if your Workers’ Compensation check is late in Virginia or North Carolina.

Partial Impairment and Temporary Total Disability Settlements Combined – in North Carolina

Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2015 at 2:00 pm    

The majority  of workers compensation settlements fit into this category. These involve injuries which may be quite severe and further involve some type of permanent restrictions on the worker’s ability to return to suitable employment.  Because of the worker’s young age, work skills, education, and ability to retrain, the worker will be told to return to work with restrictions rather than being told to retire. (more…)

Permanent Partial Impairment Settlements in North Carolina

Posted on Monday, October 26th, 2015 at 2:00 pm    

Workers who return to work at the same job or another job often make the mistake of thinking they cannot get other benefits. This is not true for some North Carolina workers. If a worker has a permanent partial disability or a disfigurement of a covered body part, they may be entitled to additional compensation on top of the lost wage money they got while they could not work.

There are many issues a skilled North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer will review before agreeing to a settlement or termination of benefits. Injured workers who return to work but with some complication should ask their lawyer these following questions: (more…)

FAQs on Medicare Set Asides in Worker’s Compensation Agreements

Posted on Monday, October 5th, 2015 at 2:25 pm    

North Carolina and also Federal Law requires that some North Carolina worker’s compensation settlement agreements contain an MSA (Medicare Set-Aside) account.

What is an MSA Account?

Many employees who settle their claims will continue to need medical assistance. The cost to pay for this assistance has to be considered.  The costs related to the work injury will be paid by the employer or the insurance carrier. When the employee reaches that age of 65, or if the employee has been on Social Security Disability for 24 months, Medicare will pick up the medical payments for the non-work related items. (more…)

Who Is the Authorized Treating Physician in a Virginia Workers’ Comp Case?

Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015 at 12:00 pm    

The Authorized Treating Physician. The authorized treating physician in a Virginia workers’ compensation claim merely refers to the doctor who the workers’ compensation carrier has agreed to allow to coordinate and direct your treatment. It is also the physician through whom they agree to pay for all recommended medical treatment. This medical provider is usually chosen and one of two ways: (more…)

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