Senate Worker’s Compensation Reform Bill Clears House Committee
February 27 – The House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee, chaired by Rep. Barney Fisher, held a hearing and approved the Senate’s version of our worker’s compensation bill today by a vote of 8-4.
The bill, SB 572, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, was supported by every major employer group and was opposed by only the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and the AFL-CIO. The bill would prevent workers from suing each other in workplace accidents and provide coverage for occupational diseases within the worker’s compensation system.
Correcting previous judicial rulings to the contrary, the bill would make it clear that workers that acquire occupational diseases – those that evolve over a long period of time – would be entitled to quick medical care and compensation for lost work time. Opponents object because employers currently are liable to the employees for large judgments when the employee is able to prove negligence on behalf of the employer. But much more often, we believe workers would much rather have quick access to medical care and payment for claims without having to prove fault on the part of the employer.
This system has worked well until courts recently ruled occupational diseases were not specifically mentioned as compensable “injuries” in the worker’s compensation law and, as a result, cases could proceed in civil court. One trial attorney witness agreed the result of the bill was to restore this protectiogn for workers within the worker’s compensation system. But trial attorneys at the hearing want to exclude toxic exposure cases from the work comp system and continue to allow civil lawsuits in those cases. While such cases usually result in large settlements for their clients, and fat paychecks for the attorneys, civil action takes much longer and requires a higher burden of proof that the employer is guilty of negligence in causing the condition. Workers that are not able to prove their employers were negligent are not entitled to any compensation or medical services. Restoring the treatment of occupational diseases (including repetitive motion disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome) to be within the work comp system where they have always been, is the best choice for employees and employers.
The vote was along straight party lines, with Republican committee members supporting the bill and Democrat committee members opposing the bill. The bill will now be referred to the House Rules Committee, then on to the House floor for debate.