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Double edge to workers’ comp changes  (access required)

Injured workers in North Carolina who were previously limited to just 300 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits will now be able to collect for up to 500 weeks. But the extra level of compensation comes at a price, said Greensboro attorney Dan Deuterman. The new law, passed by the 2011 Legislature and signed by Gov. Bev Perdue, increases from 300 to 500 the number of weeks for which an injured worker can collect partial disability benefits. But the law also caps total disability benefits at 500 weeks.

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You must remember this: Sometimes, a kiss is not just a kiss (access required)

RALEIGH (AP) — A Bible-waving preacher protesting at a gay pride event in North Carolina turned the other cheek — and got kissed on it by a 74-year-old female gay rights supporter who is now charged with simple assault. Joan Parker admits she kissed a preacher on the cheek at the June 25 event, proclaimed by the Salisbury mayor as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day. “He was just waving his arms and has a Bible in one hand, up and down, and screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘sodomites’ and ‘you’re going to hell,’” Parker said in a phone interview. “I thought he needed a hug. So I gave him a hug.”

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Total damages could top $1 billion in Maryland poisoned-property trial (access required)

A Baltimore County jury has awarded more than $495 million in compensatory damages to residents who sued Exxon Mobil Corp. over a 2006 gasoline leak. At presstime, jurors were still deliberating how much to award plaintiffs in punitive damages. The jury found Exxon Mobil liable for fraud, negligence, nuisance, strict liability, trespass, diminution of property value, emotional distress and medical monitoring. The emotional distress claim included fear of cancer and other serious diseases and fear of loss of property value.

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Checks that don’t check out (access required)

In 22 years of practicing law, Charlotte residential real estate attorney R. Steven Smith had never had anything like it happen to him. Just before Memorial Day, Smith was representing a real estate agent in a closing for a waterfront home in the Charlotte area. The buyer was from Beijing, Smith was told, and moving to Charlotte to take a position in the information technology department of a local bank.

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A case for extra care: Malpractice suits require plenty of support and expense (access required)

The term frivolous lawsuit is tossed around a lot, but attorney Ben Smith of Price, Smith, Hargett, Petho and Anderson in Charlotte finds the phrase objectionable in his practice area. “The phrase doesn’t exist in medical malpractice, and I resent people who go in public and say it does,” Smith said. “There is a large entry price in any case. You have to have an expert review the records, and they have to give a preliminary opinion on the case based solely on the record. You don’t really get to the meat of the case until you take a deposition, and that comes much later.”

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In wake of Wal-Mart, lawyers worry about fate of class actions (access required)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny class action status to a group of women suing Wal-Mart for discrimination will roil the practice of employment law in North Carolina and across the country. “I think this is going to have a very sobering impact on discrimination-based class action cases,” said Corie Pauling, chairwoman of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Labor & Employment Law Section. Many also expect the Wal-Mart ruling to be one that will get a lot of mileage from lawyers. “This is going to come up now every time you have a national client involved,” said M. Malissa Burnette, a specialist in employment and labor law with Callison Tighe & Robinson in Columbia, S.C. “For plaintiffs who attempt to do a lot of class actions, this is going to be a big deal.”

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Legislature attacks unauthorized practice of law (access required)

It isn’t every day a new cause of action comes along, but June 16 was one of them. That was the day both chambers of the North Carolina Legislature voted unanimously to pass Senate Bill 349, which provides a private cause of action to consumers who can show they were harmed by the unauthorized practice of law. As of press time, the bill had not been signed into law by Gov. Bev Perdue, but a spokesperson for the governor said it is one of several bills the governor is considering. Some attorneys say the legislation provides an opportunity for attorneys to prosecute claims on behalf of aggrieved clients, particularly those involved in real estate transactions.

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Phillips, murderer of four, loses Supreme Court bid to avoid death penalty (access required)

Mario Phillips (pictured) will remain on North Carolina’s death row after what was the last state-level appeal of his 2007 first-degree murder convictions for killing four people during a robbery. The North Carolina Supreme Court, with Judge Barbara Jackson not participating, upheld the original conviction and rejected Phillips’ bid for a new trial, finding no errors in the lower court’s rulings. The Supreme Court first heard the appeal in February 2010.

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Shrinking Medicaid (access required)

Margaret Drew didn’t have time to speak to her lawyer. She was rushing out the door for an art class and a lunch date at the senior center high-rise where she lives in Charlotte. When her attorney, Elizabeth D. Edwards, dialed her up to check on Drew’s Medicaid appeals process, Drew was all apologies. “Sorry, I gotta go, honey,” Drew said over the phone. Then she was off. Drew, 63, uses an oxygen tank. She has had a heart attack, and arthritis makes it tough for her grip much. “When I drop things in my apartment, it looks like tornado went through it,” she said. Drew is still able to live relatively independently because a certain type of Medicaid assistance pays for a home-health aide to stop by and help her dress and bathe. But a June 1 change to Medicaid eligibility requirements threatens to curtail the autonomy of Drew and thousands of other disabled or elderly North Carolinians.

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