In a dramatic move to increase the stranglehold that workers’ compensation insurance companies and employers have on injured workers, the North Carolina legislature has passed another provision which will have immediate effect on all workers compensation claims.
Whether your claim is accepted or denied your employer and their insurance company can force you to see a doctor of their choosing. What are the limitations on this?
1. The scheduled appointment has to be at a “reasonable time and place.” Given that the Industrial Commission already routinely approves travel of up to three hours for a visit to be “reasonable,” this isn’t much of a limitation at all.
2. The employer, the insurance company, the private investigator, or any other person who the defendants designate an “agent” can speak privately with the doctor before he sees you. No one ever has to reveal what was told to the doctor. At all. Ever.
3. The employer, the insurance company, the private investigator, or any other person who the defendants designate an “agent” can send written material to the doctor. They do not have to provide you a copy of these to you before the doctor sees you. The doctor does not have to reveal what documents he has. So you have absolutely no idea what has been said about you, whether it is accurate, or even if it is really about you. (Don’t laugh, private investigators routinely film the wrong person… so now the doctor may be reading a report describing “you” doing all kinds of activities when it isn’t even “you.”)
4. If you disagree with any of this, the defendants may suspend all of your benefits until you comply with their demands. Of course if the defendants don’t get around to rescheduling that doctor’s visit it will be impossible for you to comply. Clever, no?
In an effort to be fair the North Carolina legislature did put in two safeguards. First, if you would like to hire a doctor to travel across the state and attend this visit with you at your own expense you are allowed to do so. You may not use a rehabilitation nurse or any other type of medical professional. It has to be a medical doctor. Second, if the doctor issues a written report (but not if he just gives a verbal report) then a copy of it, along with the documents sent to the doctor (but not a summary of any oral communication) within ten days of receipt by the employer.
Is that a safeguard? No. It’s laughable. What the defendants will simply do is advise the doctor to not submit his written report until immediately prior to his deposition. Thus the defendants can have a written report and take the doctor’s deposition but withhold everything from you even while the doctor is giving a sworn opinion.
Is all hope lost? No. But it is becoming increasingly difficult. There are still some technicalities and arguments which can be made on your behalf. But now, more than ever, it is requiring the skill of an experienced attorney who knows exactly what will and will not work in your claim.
This article was written by Todd P. Oxner