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The Forgotten Bargain That Was Our Workers’ Compensation System

Helping Injured Workers Across AlabamaA few years ago, The Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D) published a post titled Snapshot of Justice: The Failure of Workers’ Compensation. The post begins by stating —

When a worker is hurt, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy against an employer.

This is an important opening statement! When workers’ compensation systems were created, the concept was viewed as a bargain benefiting both employers and employees. How did both benefit? Employers gained protections from lawsuits (with potentially huge damages) in the event company or co-employee negligence caused the injury. The company avoids huge damage lawsuits. In return, all employees gained basic medical care (promoting rehabilitation and the return to work) and important disability benefits. Both sides receive a benefit. Both sides avoid disaster.

Our legislative and judicial systems seem to have forgotten this bargain. And, the changes have all cost workers. Slowly, workers have seen basic benefits erode. The CJ&D article made four significant points demonstrating how workers have slowly lost valuable compensation benefits. Here are the post’s four points (in bold) with my comments following:

  • Chipping away at already meager compensation. From the beginning, workers’ compensation systems did not fully compensate workers for injuries. These systems generally did not provide benefits for pain, suffering, or other tremendous losses due to injury. Yet, important benefits were provided — medical care, rehabilitation, a small percentage of wage losses for disability. The goals were simple. Treat and return employees to work if possible. Provide workers a basic benefit for disabilities. Yet, many states have recently reduced the already minimal benefits to workers. In Alabama, our appellate courts have also restricted the benefits available to disabled workers. In the confusion and corruption of the system, many attorneys settle work comp claims without truly understanding the benefits available to their clients. The lack of competent legal representation further shortchanges injured workers needing basic benefits.
  • The fraud of worker fraud. This is the big LIE sold by insurance lobbyists to the public. The CJ&D post discusses the false campaign by insurance companies over the last twenty years to create issues of employee fraud. In reality, employee fraud is minimal. Most fraud is committed by employers. Year-after-year, employers (NOT employees) commit the overwhelming bulk of fraud. In my practice, I routinely face insurance carriers which deny claims based on false reasons or file multiple frivolous defenses to avoid paying basic benefits. I routinely face employers who fail to report injuries or lie about them to avoid paying their workers. These employer and insurance games cost all of us.
  • System costs. The system should efficiently provide medical and disability benefits. Yet, it does not. In Alabama, the employer (meaning its insurance carrier) picks the authorized doctor. Sometimes, insurance carriers pick doctors they know will not treat injuries. When the doctor does recommend treatment, the insurance carrier will often use administrative procedures to delay or deny care. This results in significant costs to workers. It also results in additional administrative costs to doctors. That’s just the beginning. When the claim is disputed, the worker must resort to a judicial system that creates more needless costs. Instead of efficiency, the system now has administrative and judicial procedures delaying needed benefits. This gives insurance companies a huge advantage at the expense of injured workers and their families. Because of administrative and judicial hurdles, it is important injured workers consult legal counsel with expertise in this area of law.
  • Safety. This is a subject I’ve discussed many, many times. Safety is a one-way street in workers’ compensation. That’s wrong. If an employee intentionally breaks safety rules, he can be denied benefits. What if the employer neglects safety? An unsafe employer faces no additional workers’ compensation penalties or costs in Alabama. And, because the system is designed to pay workers only a percentage of losses, the employer never faces the true costs of its unsafe and dangerous conduct.

A system designed to benefit both employers and injured employees has lost its balance. Increasingly, the system neglects injured workers. Increasingly, employers and insurance carriers shift the costs of injury and disability to families and government. That’s wrong. It harms workers, their families, and all of us.

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From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm represents injured workers across Alabama. We prepare workers compensation and third-party liability cases for our injured clients. Our goal is simple — We work hard to recover the maximum compensation and benefits for you. We have tried cases to verdict across Alabama.

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