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Court: Companies Can’t Dictate Own Rules for Worker Injuries

After years of workers’ compensation reforms around the country peeling back protections for injured workers – including in Florida – there have been a number of recent decisions by courts that have had enough. Many of the reforms enacted by the legislature – under pressure from corporate lobbyists and donors – undercut the basis of the “grand bargain” to which workers agreed nearly a century ago when they forfeited their right to sue their employer for work-related injuries. The trade-off was that they were entitled to swift compensation for medical bills and a portion of lost wages through a fair, no-fault system. These reforms involved slashing what workers were paid for some injuries, arbitrarily capping the amount of time workers could collect on benefits, making it tougher to file claims and even establishing systems that essentially punished workers for filing claims.constructionworker

Florida was no stranger to this. Several years ago, lawmakers had enacted strict caps on plaintiff attorney fees that had some law firms being paid less than minimum wage. There was also a provision that limited workers to two years of temporary disability pay, regardless of whether they were actually able to return to work. Just this summer, the Florida Supreme Court struck down those provisions.

Now, as reported by ProPublica (which has been delving deep into this issue since last year), the Oklahoma Supreme Court has declared Oklahoma’s opt-out provision of workers’ compensation law unconstitutional. The opt-out system basically gave employers the right to write their own plans. It was the employer who decided the rules for which injuries would be covered. The employer dictated which physicians workers were allowed to see. Employers also decided how workers were to be compensated and how grievances would be handled. In some cases, companies even required work-related injuries to be reported on the very day they happened – unlike the 30-day window granted by the state – or else the injury wouldn’t be found compensable at all. The state high court ruled that these provisions rendered the opt-out system a violation of worker rights because it treated some workers (employees of those companies) differently than others.

The law was originally passed following an aggressive and concerted effort by a national and organized effort large firms, including the biggest companies in trucking, health care and retail. They pushed hard to pass similar laws across the U.S., primarily in the Southeastern part.

An investigation by NPR and ProPublica last year revealed these “opt-out” plans – touted as “worker-friendly,” “affordable,” and “faster,” in fact resulted in lower benefits and more restrictions for workers than they would face under workers’ compensation laws. That story was part of a larger series on how states had been systematically deconstructing workers’ compensation laws – piece by piece – to the detriment of injured workers.

This decision in Oklahoma is actually the second handed down by the high court in that state this year on the workers’ compensation issue. In the spring, the court overturned a provision that significantly reduced workers’ compensation benefits to those workers who suffered severe, permanent and disabling injuries. Unfortunately here in Florida (as well as New York and Tennessee) that same kind of provision still exists.

If you have been injured at work in Miami or in a Miami construction accident, we will help fight to ensure you and/or your loved ones receive fair compensation.

Call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Oklahoma’s Top Court: Companies Can’t Set Own Rules for Injured Workers, Sept. 13, 2016, By Michael Grabell, ProPublica

More Blog Entries:

Burger King Corp. v. Lastre-Torres – Third-Party Liability for Florida Work Injury, Sept. 18, 2016, Miami Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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