Bill to Toughen Workers’ Compensation Law Passes House Vote

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Workers’ Compensation on Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In a previous post, we discussed a bill the Missouri Legislature was considering that would prohibit an injured worker from suing any co-workers who were potentially responsible for the injuries if the worker took a settlement with the state workers’ compensation fund. The bill was part of the “Fix the Six” platform proposed by a group of Missouri business leaders. On February 8, the state House passed the workers’ compensation bill by voice vote. The bill’s supporters said it is necessary to fix unintended consequences of a 2005 law meant to make it tougher for injured workers to qualify for compensation benefits.

Under the 2005 law, courts were ordered to interpret the workers’ compensation law strictly, meaning that several court ruling were overturned. The law also changed the standards injured workers must prove before they are entitled to relief from the state system. Under the original workers’ compensation rules, a person’s job had to be a “substantial factor” in his or her injury to qualify for relief. The 2005 law raised the standard: work now had to be the “prevailing factor” in causing the injury. The law gave priority to specific medical diagnosis of an injury over general pain.

However, developments since 2005 have caused employers to call for even stricter workers’ compensation laws. As discussed in a previous post, in August a state appeals court ruled that reaching a settlement with the workers’ compensation board did not prevent an injured employee of the city of Kansas City from suing his co-worker for negligence. Also, a recent article in Forbes reports, several workers have sued their employers after developing asbestos-related illnesses.

The new bill would prohibit suits against co-workers after accepting a settlement from the workers’ compensation system. It would also require workers suffering from work-related diseases to go through the state system instead of being able to sue their employers. If it passes another round of voting in the House, the bill will go to the state Senate for debate.

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, is the bill’s chief sponsor in the House. He said that the occupational disease portion of the bill is meant to close a decades-old loophole. The co-worker lawsuit ban will protect people afraid to get a job for fear they could get sued, Rep. Fisher said.

Source: Forbes, “Mo. House OKs changes to workers’ compensation,” Chris Blank, February 8, 2011

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