When you are injured on the job in North Carolina, an insurance company may pay your medical bills and disability benefits. If the paying insurer is a workers’ compensation insurer, you are good to go. But if the paying insurer is a different insurer, such as a health care plan or disability plan, then that insurer may place a “lien” on your workers’ compensation claim. If you received a lien notice from an insurer, here is what you need to know:
Liens must be addressed before you receive payment
Before settling a workers’ compensation case or cashing a final award check, injured workers should be careful to make sure there are no outstanding liens. Many times, the injured worker does not receive direct notice of a third-party lien, but instead learns about it only through the workers’ compensation adjuster, so it is important for the injured worker to ask the adjuster whether any lien notices have been received. If funds are distributed and checks are cashed before the lien is properly addressed, both you and the workers’ compensation insurer may be receiving lien and collections letters for years, so it is always the best practice to tackle the issue before it becomes a problem.
Not all liens are created equal
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can review the insurance plan underlying the lien to help you determine whether it is valid in North Carolina. Some insurance plans, for example, are classified as “ERISA” plans, meaning they fall under federal law and are treated differently than other types of liens. Your attorney likely will also address the issue of whether your employer paid the premiums for the insurance. Those important details may play an important part in how the courts treat the liens.
Even valid liens may be extinguished
Even if your attorney determines that the lien is valid and enforceable in North Carolina, the Workers’ Compensation Act provides a legal mechanism for you to apply for that lien to be reduced or even eliminated altogether. Under that statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-10.2, you may petition the superior court (not the Industrial Commission, where your workers’ compensation claim is pending) for a lien reduction.
The judge has great discretion in reducing or extinguishing the lien, so your attorney will work carefully to include all relevant information in your motion. Common considerations include the type and severity of injury, the level of cooperation and assistance from the workers’ compensation carrier and the other carrier, the amount of financial loss, your family’s financial status, the timeliness of the lien notice, and the amount of the expected workers’ compensation recovery. If your attorney successfully convinces the judge that the workers’ compensation recovery does not suffice to reimburse you for your loss, then the chance of lien reduction increases.
The federal and state laws governing medical and disability liens are complex. If you are considering accepting a final workers’ compensation settlement or award and are concerned about a possible lien, the last thing you need is to worry about futures calls from bill collectors. Contact a board-certified workers’ compensation attorney at Ricci Law Firm Injury Lawyers for a review of your case and an assessment of whether all liens have been addressed.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyer NOW serving Greenville, Durham, Goldsboro, and Raleigh
I’m Brian Ricci, a workers’ compensation lawyer serving Greenville and Raleigh. If you or a loved one has sustained an injury at work, please call me at (252) 777-2222 or 800-387-6406 for free, friendly advice.
I am a longtime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
Founder of the leading personal injury website: http://www.riccilawnc.com/personal-injury/