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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What is a “clincher agreement”?
An agreement whereby the employer pays a lump sum to the employee in exchange for a release by the employee and an agreement never to make any further claims is commonly referred to by lawyers and insurance adjusters as a “clincher agreement.” These agreements must always be approved by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, otherwise they are not valid. Once approved by the Industrial Commission, however, the employee may never again collect any money for the workers’ compensation claim. This is true even if the injured worker’s condition gets worse.
Can I get an advance on NC workers’ comp benefits for total disability?
No. An employer is only required to pay for total disability benefits on a weekly basis. There are no circumstances under which these payments are required to be paid in advance.
However, if a “clincher agreement” is made, the employer will voluntarily make advance payments. In all other situations, the disabled employee must accept benefits on a weekly basis.
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.
Am I entitled to a second opinion of my disability by a doctor of my choice?
Yes. In an injury case in North Carolina, injured persons are entitled to choose a doctor for a second opinion on the issue of the nature and extent of their disabilities.
What is my workers’ compensation rate or my “comp rate”?
For most people it is two-thirds of your average weekly wage (in gross wages, not take-home pay). There are, however, certain minimum and maximum comp rates. Learn more about how North Carolina injured workers can collect for permanent impairment.
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.
If my work-related injury was my fault, can I still collect workers' comp?
Yes, you can still recover full North Carolina workers’ compensation benefits even if the accident was caused by your own negligence. Learn about pre-existing conditions and workers' compensation.
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.