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Harmful Workers’ Compensation Ruling Hurts Injured and Employers

A recent workers’ compensation ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court will be detrimental to injured employees and employers across the state. In Wilkes v. City of Greenville, the state Supreme Court expanded liability in workers’ compensation claims, forcing the burden of proof on employers to show medical conditions not connected to a compensable injury are in fact not related. In other words, employers will now be on the hook to cover the costs for all of an employee’s medical conditions should they admit the employee’s entitlement to compensation for an injury acquired on the job and are unable to show that other ailments are not related to the compensable injury.

The devastating ramifications of this ruling cannot be understated. Expanding liability in workers’ compensation claims this way institutes an unbalanced and unfair system that will hurt both injured employees and their employers. From increased litigation costs to unsettled claims, this unfortunate decision will wreak havoc on North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system as employers will now exercise extreme caution before accepting liability for a claim. The comprehensive workers’ compensation reforms achieved in 2011 increased predictability, balance and certainty in the system, while driving rates down. These reforms have been integral in reducing rates for employers year after year – this year by an average 14.4 percent – and ensuring injured employers get they care that they need. Instead of cultivating a system that fosters relief for injured employees, this decision generates a system that will be hindered by gridlock.

North Carolina has made great strides in reforming our workers’ compensation system, reducing costs for job creators and increasing predictability in the system. Unfortunately, this shake-up restricts further progress. North Carolina needs a workers’ compensation system that works for injured employees and employers. We encourage you to contact your legislators in the General Assembly and call for a legislative fix to this ruling. As an ardent advocate for improving North Carolina’s workers’ compensations system, we will continue to fight for a balanced and fair system.

Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber