A Stab in the Dark: Predicting the Pandemic’s Effect on Workers’ Compensation

Experts trying to predict how this COVID-19 pandemic is affecting and will affect the workers’ compensation world are in complete disagreement. Some say that with the tremendous decrease in people working, there should be a corresponding decrease in on-the-job injuries. After all, they say, when people are not working, they don’t get injured. Others take a more cynical approach: we should expect a rise in claims, because when people lose their jobs and get desperate, or need to stay home with their small children, they file fraudulent claims. Still others look at the situation pragmatically: a decreased workforce means that the workers who show up to work are often rushed, overworked, or forced to perform jobs for which they are untrained. This deviation in normal routine may trigger the “unusual or unexpected” requirement necessary for most injuries in North Carolina to be compensable, so there should be increased claims.

So who is right? Many people were hoping that looming question would be answered via the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s Annual Report, published this month. However, the conclusions are not as clear as anticipated. The Annual Report did compare how many Form 18 Reports of Injury were filed in certain months in 2019, versus the same periods in 2020. Those differences were staggering. In May and June, for example, the Form 18 filings dropped 35 to 40 percent, going from about 1400 or 1500 per month to about 900 per month. But June saw only a 16 percent decrease in claims when compared with June of 2019. Workers started tentatively venturing back to the workplace in June, so these statistics might possibly mean we are headed back to normal, and that the drastic declines seen in March to May were merely a short blip on the radar. However, the data incorporated into the Annual Report ends in June, leaving us in limbo.

While we wait for more numbers to arrive, and for wonky 2020 to come to a close, we continue to recommend enhanced background investigations to identify workers prone to fabricate claims for pandemic-related reasons:

  • Childcare problems
  • Sudden financial change, such as job loss, in the family
  • Family member needing caretaking
  • Anger or hostility toward employer, such as regarding safety regulations
  • Eviction or other emergency housing problems
  • Substance abuse disorders creating drug-seeking behavior

The attorneys at Anders Newton continue to defend workers’ compensation claims during the pandemic and regularly provide assistance claims investigations, including advice about how to handle new North Carolina workers’ compensation claims. Contact us at 919-516-8400.

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