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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Penalties, Paper and The Injured Worker

A penalty of $140,000.00 against an employer for reporting a work-related accident one day late seems a litte much. As David Depaolo points out in his recent post, the world of workers' compensation is drowning in complexity. The days of "simple" have past. The legislative intent of a remedial and summary system has gone by the boards.

Besides being a collection agency with no operating funds, the workers' compensation litigation arena is now being suffocated in litigation detail. In more ways than one, workers' compensation now has the complexity of sophisticated product liability litigation. We have transformed workers' compensation into "A Federal Case."

In this process, when the efficiency suffers so does the injured worker. The compensation system has matured into this level of complexity not because of the intent or design of the parties. It got there because the system just wasn't build to handle the load.

Like a burdened electric grid, the system will have to shed load. The question is how. Are benefits to be eliminated or does the system need to be redesigned to fullfil the needs of today's complex world? Legislatures are struggling across the country to find a solution. The bottom line is that we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. The solution must incorporate the needs on the injured worker. One must remember, as a tour through Ellis Island memorializes, that this country was build on the backs of immigrant labor. As the redesign goes forward, as it must, the injured worker must not become a helpless pawn in the system.