North Carolina Legal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When you or a loved one is injured in an accident, no one hands you a pamphlet containing all of the information you need to understand your case. In this section we strive to answer the basic questions that everyone has in the time following a car accident, on-the-job injury, medical malpractice, abuse, or other accident.
If you don't find the answers to all of your North Carolina injury questions here, we encourage you to contact our Raleigh injury lawyers for answers to questions specific to your case. The consultation is free and confidential.
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If my on-the-job accident happened because I was under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, can I still recover?
No. There can be no recovery if the worker is intoxicated or under the influence of controlled substances and that intoxication or influence of controlled substances caused the injuries. If no substances were involved, employees can recover NC workers' comp benefits, even if the accident was their fault.
What happens if I do not cooperate with the vocational rehabilitation counselor assigned to me?
If my employer or their workers’ compensation insurance carrier tell me to go to a certain doctor to be examined, must I do so?
Yes. If you fail to do so, your North Carolina workers' comp benefits may be suspended until you demonstrate that you are willing to be examined by a doctor of the defendant’s choice.
Who decides what doctors will treat me for my work-related injuries?
If your employer accepts responsibility for your workplace accident and pays your claim, the employer gets to conduct your medical care. However, once a treating doctor is established, the employer cannot “doctor shop” by sending you to doctor after doctor until they get a report they want. In order to change your treating physician, your employer and you must seek permission from the Industrial Commission.
I am being treated by a doctor for a NC workers’ comp injury. Is the doctor required to keep what I say confidential?
No. In a North Carolina workers’ compensation claim, there is no physician-patient privacy privilege. Your treating doctor can tell your employer or the insurance carrier anything and everything he or she learns from you about your workers’ compensation case.
How long is my employer required to pay all of my medical expenses incurred in connection with a work-related accident?
North Carolina workers' compensation law says that the right to payment for medical expenses shall terminate two years after the employer’s last payment of medical workers’ compensation payments.
However, if it is anticipated that medical expenses will be incurred past the two-year deadline, the NC Industrial Commission will issue a special order requiring payment of these benefits even if they are incurred more than two years from the date of the last medical payment. This will only happen if you (or your North Carolina workers' comp lawyer) take affirmative action to be sure your employer will have to pay you for expenses which are incurred after two years. Without this special order, the two-year limit applies.
If I am injured while traveling to work, can I recover North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits?
In most cases, no. The North Carolina workers’ compensation law does not protect workers who are injured while traveling to work or while traveling home after work. This is part of North Carolina's "going and coming rule." There are certain exceptions, however. For instance, traveling salespeople who have to drive regularly in their work can recover even if they are traveling to their first sales appointment of the day.
I haven't worked with asbestos for 20 years. Do I still have a North Carolina workers' compensation claim if I get sick?
Yes, you may still have a North Carolina workers' compensation claim even if you have not worked near asbestos in many years. There are several different time limits, but the most important thing is to file a workers' compensation claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission as soon as you think you are suffering from an asbestos-related disease. Every claim will require reconstructing your work history, but if you have been exposed to asbestos at several employers, you do not have to prove which employment exposure caused your disease. When a worker proves that an occupational disease was caused by one of several employments, the last employment that might have caused the disease is responsible for providing workers' compensation benefits. Our Raleigh workers' comp lawyers can explain more, but workers' compensation benefits for an asbestos claim can be significant, including payment of all medical bills, tax-free wage loss, payment for permanent disability, job training, and lifetime widow/widower's benefits.
Do I have a claim against the manufacturer of asbestos products that caused my disease even if I was exposed long ago?
Yes, you may have a claim for your asbestos illness even if you were exposed many years ago. Most lawsuits for injuries must be brought within 8 to 10 years of exposure to the product that caused the injury, however, North Carolina injury law provides asbestos victims with special timing rules because exposures thirty years ago (and longer) frequently cause asbestos diseases. Asbestos claims must be filed within two years from the date your doctor tells you you have an asbestos-related disease. Almost every case involves reconstructing your history of working with asbestos, and to pinpoint which companies made and sold the asbestos products that caused the disease. Our workers' comp lawyers in Raleigh advise it is very important to act promptly in order to preserve your legal rights if you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition because the two year legal clock begins running when you knew or should have known that your condition was caused by asbestos exposure.
How do these injury claims work together? Can I get North Carolina workers' comp and Social Security benefits at the same time, or do they offset each other?
That's a complicated question with a lot of answers. Here are some of them:
Social Security and North Carolina workers' compensation may offset each other. If you get both, the total amount you receive may be less than the two together. Your workers' comp lawyer in Raleigh can put important language in a workers' compensation settlement agreement to increase your total benefits. If you make a successful workers' compensation claim for asbestos disease and recover against the manufacturer of asbestos products, some or all of the amount you get from workers' compensation may have to be paid back to the workers' compensation insurer out of your recovery against the manufacturer. (Your lawyer may be able to get a State Court judge to limit or eliminate the pay back requirement.)
Some union pension benefits are reduced if you also get Social Security or workers' compensation, but there is not usually any reduction if you receive money from a claim against an asbestos manufacturer. Whether, and how much, any of these reductions will happen depends on the language in the union contract. Now for some good news: Social Security does not affect, and is not affected by, any recovery against the manufacturer of asbestos products. If these two are the only claim you make, you get to keep all the benefits from both.
What if I was injured by exposure to asbestos in my home? Do I have a claim if I never worked with asbestos? What kind of products should I worry about?
Often times asbestos exposure will occur at home, not at work. Clothes laundered from work in an asbestos-containing environment, or building materials like asbestos-containing "popcorn" acoustic ceiling spray, have caused exposures that result in asbestos diseases decades later. Sometimes a location such as a school or office building can cause an exposure from demolition or damage to old steam pipes or insulation. Generally speaking, asbestos was used extensively until the mid to late 1970s. If you have an asbestos disease and don't know how you were exposed, you should immediately investigate making a claim, or risk being time barred by North Carolina's statute of limitations.
Do I qualify for disability benefits under my union pension plan in North Carolina?
Many industrial union contracts in North Carolina provide disability benefits to workers who can no longer do their regular work. Whether you qualify, for how long, and for what benefits depend on the language in the contract. You should ask your shop steward or business agent for a copy of the contract and any application forms you need to fill out to qualify. Union contracts are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).