Bill could raise compensation for severely injured workers

Posted June 4, 2014

— So what's your pancreas worth? How about a stomach? 

That's the sort of gruesome calculation made by workers compensation law.

Currently, unless an organ or body part is specified elsewhere in law, an injured worker would be entitled up to $20,000 in compensation under workers compensation law. That amount hasn't been raised since the 1980s.

"It seems to me, as a policy on this specific thing, we need to take a look at that," Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, told the House Judiciary B Committee on Wednesday. 

To make the change, the committee is rewriting Senate Bill 101, a measure that had come from the Senate as a technical corrections bill. Jordan's measure will strip out the bill's original content and replace it with new language. That procedure, sometimes called "gut and amend," puts the measure on a fast track through the General Assembly, bypassing several steps of the committee process. 

Under Jordan's bill, the state Industrial Commission, which handles workers compensation cases, would be able to award workers up to $41,600, what the $20,000 would have grown to by now if it kept up with inflation. 

The move drew some criticism from business groups, who said it could dramatically raise the cost for asbestos claims. 

Andy Ellen, director of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, said that current law does not clearly define what an "organ" is, allowing some claiming injuries to claim multiple awards related to the same accident.

"It has been argued that the fluid in the lung is a separate organ," Ellen said. "If you do not define what an organ is, you set the stage for a lot of case law before the Industrial Commission."

But others, including speakers form two different groups of trial lawyers, said the definition of an organ is already hazy. 

Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said he supported raising the cap. The legislature, he said, may have to weigh in on the definition of an organ eventually but not immediately.

"We've just got to do justice," Stam said. "If $20,000 was appropriate in 1987, it's something higher now."

The measure passed the committee on a voice vote.


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