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Study: The effects of North Carolina workers' compensation reform

Being involved in a serious workplace accident is a difficult and emotional experience for those injured and their family members. Workers' compensation benefits are designed to ease the difficult days and weeks following an accident. Last year, North Carolina lawmakers enacted laws intended to improve existing workers' compensation laws for workers and their employers. The Workers Compensation Research institute recently released a preliminary report from their ongoing study of the effects of last year's changes.

The main goals of the reform efforts were to help workers return to health and work sooner and lower the overall costs incurred by employers. The bill placed restrictions on the number of weeks an employee could receive temporary total benefits, limiting payments to 500 weeks. On the other hand, the cap for temporary partial benefits was extended to 500 weeks, over the previous limit of 300. Furthermore, the reforms established additional "access to vocational rehabilitation." This is designed to help workers return to work sooner. Finally, the 2011 law has increased the amount of benefits issued to family's dealing with a fatal workplace accident.

This initial report from the firm's study determined some of the basic issues that have existed over the past several years in the state's workers' compensation system. Disturbingly, North Carolina has experienced some of the nation's slowest recovery times for injured employees. Although the firm has established the necessary baseline numbers to accurately measure the impact of the reforms, it may be years before the true impact of the reform can be accurately assessed.

Above all, the impact of the reforms on workers and their families should be the primary focus of the study. Workers' compensation payments, by their very design, are intended to ease the financial strain caused by a workplace accident. For some North Carolina families, a serious work injury can eliminate a household's primary source of income. The hope is that these new laws will help workers and their families on the road to health, rather than hinder their ability to recover.

Source: Risk & Insurance, "WCRI report offers glimpse on impact of North Carolina reforms," March 15, 2012

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