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Thursday, March 24, 2011

MIssouri Mulls More Work Comp Reform

Guest Blog by B. Michael Korte

The Missouri legislature is again considering a number of proposals to change its workers’ compensation system. Every year brings various efforts to continue to ratchet down the benefits provided to injured workers, but this year is the first since 2005 that any change is expected. That year, extensive changes were passed, including a requirement that cases be construed "strictly" rather than liberally. 

Strict construction has proven to be a two-edged sword, with courts recently strictly construing Missouri law to allow more civil lawsuits against fellow employees, and perhaps excluding occupational diseases from the workers’ compensation system and allowing them to proceed in the civil court system. 

Legislation will almost certainly pass in the pro-business-dominated legislature to close these loopholes. What remains to be seen is whether the legislature will finally act to save the state’s second injury fund

The 2005 legislation placed a hard cap on funding for the fund, which has left it nearly bankrupt. The fund stopped making settlement offers in 2009, but now is finding itself unable to pay arrearages on permanent total disability awards. Although numerous independent audits agree that lifting the cap would solve the problem, legislative proposals are focusing instead on limiting or eliminating the fund.

The legislature will have until its adjournment on May 13 to solve the problem, but will also be consumed with budgetary and other problems in the meantime.

B. Michael Korte practices in Kirkwood, Missouri (The Korte Law Firm). B. Michael Korte is the author of Missouri Practice Vol. 29, Workers Compensation Law and Practice. He previously served as president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, and  has been awarded its Outstanding Service Award. He previously served as president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, and has been awarded its Outstanding Service Award. He frequently lectures statewide at seminars sponsored by the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation, bar associations, and other groups. He has served as the chair of the Missouri Bar Association Workers’ Compensation Committee and as President of Kids’ Chance, Inc., a workers compensation charity.

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