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Groups Aim to Change Workers' Comp Laws in 2013 Legislative Session

Some groups have announced plans to seek change to Missouri's workers' compensation that could hurt those with work-related diseases.
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    January 25, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- In advance of the start of the Missouri legislative session on January 9, 2013, some groups announced their intention to seek changes affecting the Missouri workers' compensation system. Those supporting the change say it would improve the business climate, while others say it will unfairly limit the legal options for people who acquire work-related diseases.

Missouri workers' compensation

Workers' compensation was developed to provide injured workers with payments for medical care, rehabilitation, partial lost wages, and permanent injuries without having to prove fault or negligence on the part of the employer. It also protects employers from having to pay out significant sums for on-the-job injuries, because businesses pay premiums for workers' compensation insurance, which then provides benefits to qualifying injured workers.

In 2005, a new Missouri law required injured workers to prove that a work accident was the prevailing factor in causing their injury, rather than just a substantial contributing factor, to proceed with their workers' compensation claims. It also changed the interpretation of the state's workers' compensation provisions, narrowly defining qualifying injuries as those arising out of an accident. Therefore, people who acquire diseases through their work can pursue compensation through litigation in the courts, in contrast to people who must seek compensation through workers' compensation for work-related injuries.

Litigation vs. workers' compensation

As mentioned, people who acquire a work-related disease currently can sue their employers outside of workers' compensation because their disease is not an injury caused in a work accident. According to the Associated Press, some Republicans and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry claim this leaves businesses vulnerable to large jury awards that may be given to workers who sue for work-related diseases. They say the law should be changed so businesses do not bear the risk of unpredictable jury awards, which may cause them to avoid expanding or adding employees. These groups would like all claims for work-related injuries and diseases to go through the workers' compensation system.

On the other hand, some say that workers' compensation and its cap on benefits is an inadequate remedy for certain devastating work-related diseases. Supporters of the existing law argue that the ability to sue is necessary to recover fair compensation for horrible illnesses like mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a deadly disease that can be caused by exposure to asbestos at work, and it progresses very quickly. Through litigation, someone who acquires work-related mesothelioma can seek full compensation that later can be shared with his or her heirs should they die. Forcing these claims to go through workers' compensation is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not address the severity of these cases.

Only time will tell whether the law will be changed. Past attempts to direct all claims through workers' compensation have failed, but Republicans have a new supermajority in the Missouri legislature. If you have been injured at work or have a work-related injury or disease, contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney, to discuss your legal options.

Article provided by Adler & Manson
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