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Adding Insult to Injury – The Demolition of Workers’ Comp

Friday, March 6, 2015

This week National Public Radio and ProPublica released an eye-opening report, The Demolition of Workers’ Comp, detailing how state workers’ comp benefits for injured workers have been slashed across the US leaving many to live in poverty without proper medical care.

Could this happen in New York? Unfortunately, the answer is “Yes”. As New York workers’ comp lawyers, we can see the hand writing on the wall if something is not done soon. Here are some sad lowlights from the article:

  • Dennis Whedbee lost his arm on the job. The workers’ compensation insurance company refused to give him a prosthetic hand. They offered him a hook instead!
  • Joel Ramirez is a paraplegic due to a work accident in a warehouse. He needs assistance with bathing and toileting on a daily basis. The workers’ comp insurance company took away his home health aide leaving him sitting in his own urine and feces. His wife had to quit her job cleaning houses to take care of him.
  • John Coffell suffered a severe lower back injury working in a factory. His workers’ comp checks are so low his truck was repossessed and his family was evicted from their apartment. His family had to split up to live with relatives and some live in a family camper.

While injured workers in New York are facing similar indignities, employers continue to lobby to cut workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers even more despite:

  • Employer workers’ compensation costs are at a 25 year low.
  • Workers’ comp insurance companies are making record profits.
  • “Employer fraud” is growing as a result of misclassification of workers.

As a result of the unending cuts in workers’ comp benefits in the last decade, the cost of work related accidents have been shifted to the Social Security disability program, Medicare and Medicaid. Essentially, costs properly borne by employers only a decade ago are increasingly being shifted to taxpayers. With employers paying less for work related injuries, they have less incentive to prevent work accidents in the first place – which is in everyone’s’ best interest. Bottom line – the workplace is getting more dangerous, employer costs have gone down dramatically and insurance companies are still making record profits.

The “Demolition of Workers’ Comp” and accompanying info on the NPR website is well-researched and traces the origins of workers’ compensation law and the “grand bargain” between workers and employers: injured workers gave up their right to sue negligent employers in return for prompt lost wage and medical benefits. Employer and business interests are now trying to renege on that century old bargain by gutting state workers’ compensation laws. Do employers really want to go back to a system where they have to defend against employee lawsuits? I don’t think so.

Employers and business should keep their “hands off” workers’ compensation and the fair “grand bargain”.

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