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The Missouri legislature is undertaking the challenge of reforming the state’s workers’ compensation law. Earlier this month the state senate held a hearing and witnesses testified regarding proposed changes to the law. Making its way through the legislature is Senate Bill 572, which proposes some radical changes to the existing workers’ compensation system. The act proposes that all occupational diseases be covered by workers’ compensation laws. The act also attempts to protect co-employees from liability for acts that are not purposeful. As such, if a co-worker’s negligence is responsible for the injury and/or death of another employee, the co-worker will not be held personally liable.

The bill provides significant advantages for employers because it limits the use of the second injury fund. A second injury fund is one where employers pay a flat rate into the fund. It allows employers to hire individuals with disabilities and preexisting diseases. If the employee is injured on the job, the employee is compensated out of the second injury fund. The standard workers’ compensation fund is financed by a variable rate charged to employers, which is based on the probability that an injury will occur in their workplace.

Because of this difference in funding, employers are attempting to push more of their cases into the second injury fund to avoid paying the higher rate charged by the standard workers’ compensation fund. The second injury fund has been completely liquidated and is now in debt. The fund currently owes more than $100 million in claims to injured employees. The new bill limits which types of preexisting conditions and disabilities will have access to the second injury fund. The act no longer allows claims for permanent partial disability against the second injury fund and only allows claims for permanent total disability when three conditions are met: 1) there exists a medically documented preexisting permanent disability caused by military duty or a preexisting permanent partial disability; 2) the preexisting disability equals a minimum of 50 weeks of compensation according to the medical standards that are used in determining compensation; and 3) a subsequent work-related injury occurs and, when combined with the elements of the prior injury, results in permanent total disability.

It is easy to see why some of the individuals who testified at the hearing were upset. Some people view this new bill as a way of giving employers a free ride and not holding them accountable when there are injuries in the workplace. The Missouri AFL-CIO has come out against the bill, saying that “All we’re looking for is a fair shake when we are injured in the place where we work. We are not looking to break our employer.”

Should this measure pass, it will be more difficult for injured workers to receive workers’ compensation benefits in the future. An experienced Missouri injury attorney will provide you with the representation you need to fight for the benefits you deserve. A skilled St. Louis personal injury attorney is required to navigate the confusing codes and legal pitfalls. Contact Sansone / Lauber today for a free initial consultation at (314) 863-0500.

Source: “Debate Rages Over Missouri Workers’ Comp Reform,” by Tim Sampson, published at OzarksFirst.com.

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