I cannot remember any time in recent or not so recent memory when workers’ compensation has generated so much attention nationally. Perhaps not since the days of President Nixon’s National Commission on State Workers’ Compensation Laws over 40 years ago has there been so much written and discussed about the current state of and the future of this unique form of social insurance.
Since the last issue of Workers’ First Watch in the winter of 2015, the National Academy of Social Insurance hosted a debate on Opt Out, moderated by a representative of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). WILG’s past President Chuck Davoli and an unusual ally Bruce Wood of the American Insurance Association debated William Minick of Partner Source the chief architect and proponent of Opt Out. Professor Michael Duff of the University of Wyoming School of Law also contributed with his analysis of the ERISA implications of the various Opt Out plans. It was a spirited and informative debate, which I believe, exposed the basic fundamental weaknesses of the Opt Out concept.
A month later in February at the Annual Conference of the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) in Boston, two opt out panels were held. In the first Minnick once again debated his plan with Trey Gillespie a representative of the Property and Casualty Insurance industry; on the second panel I represented WILG and along with Bruce Wood, offered a point/counterpoint exchange with two Opt Out representatives from Oklahoma.
WILG member Bob Burke has been leading the charge in Oklahoma and received two hard fought decisions; in Vasquez v Dillard’s, Inc. the Oklahoma Industrial Commission declared the Dillard’s Opt Out plan unconstitutional stating: “…the appearance of equal treatment under the dual system is like a water mirage on the highway that disappears upon close examination…”
Barely a week later Burke scored another more far reaching decision from the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Torres v Seaboard Foods, LLC holding that the Grand Bargain had been breached by the drastic reductions in workers’ compensation benefits by the Oklahoma legislature.
Various “National Summits” to discuss the current and future status of Workers’ Compensation are being scheduled and WILG will have representatives at all of them; IAIABC’s summit in Santa Fe in April 2016; another in Dallas in May and yet another at the Roscoe Pound Civil Justice Institute in September.
I have been invited to give the closing keynote address at the Montana Governor’s Workers’ Compensation Conference in September and will be addressing these issues as well.
Recently the US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez announced that his agency will use its “bully pulpit” to oppose measures that negatively impact injured workers, calling Opt Out a “pathway to poverty for people who get injured on the job”.
Our federal legislative committee members, specifically Rich Swanson, Hank Patterson and our lobbyist Mike Forscey have been instrumental in carrying our message to Capitol Hill. Our Opt Out Taskforce, chaired by Malcolm Crosland meets in person or telephonically at least once a month.
WILG will continue to work with our members and all stakeholders to continue to advocate for the preservation and improvement of the workers’ compensation system. Our clients are depending on us.
Coal company CEO's misdemeanor conviction after a disaster that killed 29 miners is a "perversion of justice," says victim's sister
In 1911, the U.S. created the first state-based workers’ compensation laws as a legislative solution between labor and management. In this “grand bargain,” employers provide compensation to employees injured on the job and in exchange employees don’t sue the employers for negligence. The current case of Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital questions whether Florida’s compensation laws still provide adequate remuneration to injured workers. What could this case really mean for Florida’s state legislature?
In this episode of Workers Comp Matters, Alan Pierce interviews Mark Zientz, claimants’ attorney for Stahl v. Hialeah, about the history of state workers’ compensation laws, legislative changes made in the 1970s, and the potential ramifications of three Florida cases pending at the appellate level. Together, they discuss contributory negligence vs. comparative negligence states and the creation of an OSHA commission to study the adequacy of workers’ compensation laws in the 1970s. Pierce and Zientz then move on to current cases in Florida, including Westphal v. St. Petersburg, Castellanos v. Next Door Company, and Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital. These cases question whether the compensation system is still an adequate replacement for the tort system which it supplanted. In other words, is workers’ compensation in Florida no longer constitutional?
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Over the past decade, states have slashed workers’ compensation benefits, denying injured workers help when they need it most and shifting the costs of workplace accidents to taxpayers.
Part 1 of ProPublica Article Here
Part 2 - How Much Is Your Arm Worth
Part 3 - Injured Workers Share Stories of Harm
On Tuesday, 5/5, the Illinois House convened a committee of the whole for a hearing on work comp. An injured worker from Oklahoma, who was featured in a previous ProPublica piece, provided testimony. Here's an article in response to the hearing:
Dr. Joel Morton's WorkCompWire Article
Every day brings another headline about a fatal overdose on painkillers, a celebrity who’s hooked, or a serious crime driven by addiction. Sadly, injured workers are among those addicted. Since 1990, opioid overdose deaths have tripled. It’s easy to blame doctors who prescribe painkillers, but only 17 percent of abused opioids are abused by legitimate patients with legitimate prescriptions. Physicians are doing their best, trying to treat pain without withholding needed medications, but that only helps so much.
Dr. Joel Morton of Summit Pharmacy takes a closer look at the issue and in the following article discusses a few policy changes that could go a long way to stem opioid abuse:
Alan S. Pierce
Immediate Past President
Matthew J. Belcher