Governor Perdue has made two legislative actions that contradict each other and may leave injured North Carolinians unprotected and financially insecure. In one day, Perdue signed into law two bills that will make it more difficult for courts to award appropriate workers' compensation benefits to injured employees and vetoed a bill that would limit medical malpractice payouts. However, the Senate voted to override Gov. Perdue's veto passing the Medical Liability Reforms Act into law.
The Medical Liability Reforms Act, SB 33, caps medical malpractice payouts for emotional and secondary physical side effects like pain, emotional strain and suffering to $500,000. It also makes malpractice more difficult to prove in court, which will negatively affect those injured by malpractice. North Carolina's trial lawyers' association encouraged the governor to veto the bill because of the negative impact it would have had on their injured clients, but medical professionals supported the bill, in part because capping medical malpractice would most likely reduce malpractice insurance premiums.
Perdue has gone on record supporting medical malpractice reform, but, with the support of the trial lawyers' association, thought SB 33 was too restrictive for injured individuals. Unfortunately, the Senate vote shows they thought otherwise and injured victims of medical malpractice find themselves paying the price.
The second and third bills, HB 542 and 709, restrict penalties on companies when a worker is injured on the job and changes the length of time an injured worker would receive benefits, respectively. Though Perdue claims these laws have the interests of both injured workers and companies in mind, they are harmful to injured individuals who are reliant on workers' compensation following a workplace accident. Such reform, known as tort reform, has the potential to greatly reduce payouts to injured individuals.
These bills in particular may make a fair judgment for injured workers nearly impossible because the new standards can pollute juries. The legislation requires plaintiffs to present actual medical bills, versus the amount that was billed to insurance. This can mislead juries to believe that once the medical bills are paid, the injured worker is in the clear, which is almost never the case. Workplace injuries, especially those that result in permanent damage or prevent an employee from working, can negatively impact the rest of the worker's life, long after initial medical attention has been provided, and workers often are dependent on the money awarded to them by the court system.
The actions of Governor Perdue and the Senate have passed bills into law that are a three-time win for insurance companies and a triple hit to North Carolina's injured. Time will reveal the extent of the harm these new laws will have on injured victims throughout the state. If you have been injured, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to understand how these new laws may impact your case.