The NC Workers’ Comp Form You Shouldn’t Sign Without Talking to a Lawyer
You have an injury that came from work. Your case is accepted by the insurance company, or maybe you won after they denied it. Your treatment has made you as good as the doctor the workers’ comp insurance paid for says you can expect, even if you still need some future visits, medications, or other help. Then you receive a form in the mail – a Form 26A, from workers’ comp.
You got the Form 26A because your doctor gave you a rating. But what is a rating, and what does it mean for your workers’ compensation case? A rating is how much permanent damage the doctor believes that you have had to your injured part of the body. You can only get a rating after you are stable, and the doctor says you are at your maximum medical improvement.
Most importantly, a rating can determine the final amount of money you will receive for your injury. You should know your rights before you sign.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
Under North Carolina workers’ compensation law, a doctor who treats you may give a number that tells what percentage of disability you have to your injured body part. You can see the NC Ratings Guide online (https://www.ic.nc.gov/ncic/pages/ratinggd.htm) if you want to see what doctors can look at for guidance. But you should know that doctors get to use their own judgment in North Carolina, and the number could be different from those in the guidelines.
The rating determines how much money you will get. If you get a lower rating, you will get less money than a higher rating would get you. Lawyers who specialize in NC workers’ compensation are familiar with what you can expect to receive for your injury rating, because they will have seen many other ratings.
Some people should not take a rating, because they will lose more money in pay after their injury than a rating is worth. You should know before you choose, and a lawyer can help.
How much is your rating worth? And what if you don’t agree with the rating?
The rating is a percentage that is multiplied by the number that the part of the body has been assigned. The number assigned to the body part is a maximum number of weeks of compensation. The result? It is the number of weeks of workers’ compensation checks that you get at the same rate you got when you were totally out of work. That is your compensation for your permanent injury. You get this compensation even after you go back to work.
A payment on the rating is not a settlement.
You are making a choice, and you could choose wrong. Even after the payment of a rating, a claim remains open for an additional two years in case of a change of condition.
Where is all of this found in the law?
The statute is N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-31, and it gives a list of body parts, and the maximum number of weeks that each body part is worth.
A 40% rating to the knee = 40% of 200 weeks (the maximum number of weeks to the leg) equals 80 weeks of workers’ compensation payments.
A10% Rating to the back = 10% of 300 weeks (the maximum number of weeks to the back) equals 30 weeks of WC checks.
Doctors can have differences of opinion.
If you were treated by two doctors, they might give different ratings on the same body part. The law gives you the right to a second opinion on the rating under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-27. Because there are many things to consider when you are thinking about a second opinion, you should speak to an attorney
Why you might not want to sign a Form 26A without talking to an attorney
- If you can’t do the same work before your injury, then you should continue to receive workers’ compensation checks until you can return to “suitable employment.” The amount of those checks over time may be more than a rating would be. An attorney can help you navigate the best option.
- If you still need time to heal, you might not be ready to take a rating. Even if you sign a Form 26A to receive payment of your rating too early, you are choosing your payment. It could be possible for you to get paid a rating, be unable to work, and also never receive workers’ compensation checks again–even though you could have waited and be receiving ongoing checks.
- Sometimes injured workers think they can work and want to get paid a rating right away. But you might not know what you can’t do until have been back to work for a while. This is why the law gives injured workers a “trial return to work” period of up to nine months, if you haven’t chosen to take the rating.
If you are unsure about your ability to return to work doing your pre-injury job, talk ta board-certified workers’ compensation attorney. When an injured worker is unable to return to work the amount they are eligible to receive under NC Workers’ compensation law becomes critically important and not something one should leave up to chance.
If you are presented with a Form 26A and asked to sign, A board certified workers’ compensation specialist can help you assess whether a second opinion is worthwhile and how to go about getting one.