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Will An Alabama Workers’ Compensation “Task Force” Harm Injured Workers?

Blackwell Law Firm - Huntsville Personal Injury LawyersIn May 2017, an Alabama Circuit Court Judge in Birmingham declared Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act unconstitutional. What were the reasons why? Our law placed caps on benefits for workers suffering a permanent partial disability and on the attorneys who help those injured workers. The Birmingham case was later resolved and the Act remains in force. So, workers’ compensation benefits continue to be provided in Alabama. Yet, the decision started discussions about the unjust nature of our Act.

The cap on benefits for partially disabled workers is especially unfair and unjust. The cap was enacted decades ago. While everything else has been adjusted for inflation, the cap has not. The result — partially disabled workers receive a benefit placing their families below the poverty level. That is a horrible way for us to treat the working men and women in our communities.

Following the Judge’s decision, a task force formed to propose changes in our workers’ compensation laws. I’ve been concerned since the beginning. Why? My concern is this — What important benefits will workers lose in exchange for a modest increase in partial disability benefits? My concern is real. Across the United States, we have seen a slow erosion of workers’ compensation benefits. In other states, task forces and legislative proposals gave workers something small in  exchange for taking other more valuable benefits. Repeatedly, other state legislatures de-valued their most important resource — the working men and women of their state. If I’m worried this Alabama task force will “dangle” a carrot of increasing one benefit while taking others, I’ve seen it elsewhere.

While legislative change has not yet come to Alabama, we have seen regulatory and judicial changes that drastically increased the burden and cost required for injured workers to obtain basic benefits. What should exist to provide basic benefits with ease has become a bloated system only benefitting service providers and insurance defense lawyers who stand in the middle and delay services.

Is my concern legitimate? I think so. Recently I read an article published by an insurance defense lawyer affialiated with the Alabama “task force.” According to that insurance lawyer, such “cuts” are clearly on the table. So, what important benefits are potentially on the chopping block?

  1. Terminating Permanent Total Disability Benefits At A Fixed Age.
  2. Closing Medical Benefits After A Certain Period Of Time.

That’s outrageous! Yet, it’s not a new proposal. Insurance lobbyists and their friends in the Alabama Legislature have repeatedly sought to terminate benefits for our most injured and disabled workers. These proposals have failed in past legislative sessions. A “task force” endorsement may give these terrible proposals a false sense of legitimacy needed for enactment.

Keep in mind our workers’ compensation laws were enacted years ago with a primary purpose of giving injured workers needed medical treatment. Now, in the false name of reform, the proposal is to terminate those benefits at a certain point and remove the ability of doctors to treat patients. For many of those injured patients, later treatment will come (if at all) at taxpayer expense through Medicare or other government benefits. The insurance companies backing such a proposal are shifting their obligation to us. A second purpose of the Act is to help our most disabled workers. Yet, terminating benefits of a disabled person at a fixed point in time does not accomplish that purpose. Again, it leaves a disabled family member or neighbor dependent upon government sources rather than the insurance companies who accepted premiums to insure the risk.

Sadly, I’ve had to write about these unjust proposals on past occasions. You can read my 2017 post (basically the last time this proposal failed) on this blog. It is titled, Will The Alabama Legislature Limit Important Workers’ Compensation Benefits? My prior post goes into more detail about the injustices of these proposals.

Our greatest resource in Alabama is our working men and women. We need to focus our effort on improving our workforce for the future. At the same time, we need to protect the men and women who suffer injury and disability while doing their jobs. When our workers’ compensation laws were first enacted, we understood that medical care and benefits for our most disabled were both essential. We should not forget that now.

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At the Blackwell Law Firm, our attorneys have helped injured workers recover needed workers’ compensation benefits for over two decades. We believe in fighting hard for the maximum benefit of our clients. We prepare every case fully. We have substantial trial experience in courts across Alabama.