I'm certainly not going to deny that The Media contributes to this with daily news on these topics.
We all have opinions on what's wrong with workers' compensation. I get email, comments to blog posts and other communications, from injured workers and professionals alike, that decry all the various negative attributes of the system.
While many of these pessimistic observations have some validity, and while folks will disagree with each other on many of these points, the one thing that keeps coming back to me, regardless of where one stands on any particular issue, is that the vast majority of people working within, or serving, the workers' compensation industry really do care about "the system" and want to ensure it works as well as it can given the constrictions and limitations we face.
Most of us do not have the power or ability to make the radical, dynamic changes we think should be implemented.
Most of us don't understand the implications of change - how one small element in the law can affect many other elements up or down stream, or the unintended consequences that may follow.
|"How about that Padgett case?"|
Some at least do have the power to shape the conversation though - and the recent opinion by Florida Circuit Judge Cuneo in the Padgett case is doing that.
Legally the Padgett case is inconsequential - it is not binding on anyone other than the parties to that case, in particular the State of Florida.
And the likelihood of the Florida State Attorney General, who represents the state, appealing the ruling is very, very low - why invite appellate review unnecessarily and potentially disrupt the status quo?
After all, messing with the workers' compensation system is really a legislative function.
But, as was observed by many at this week’s Workers’ Compensation Institute Educational Conference in Orlando, FL, the fact that this ruling came out has opened up a big discussion, and not just in Florida but around the nation.
The top headline when I Google "Padgett unconstitutional workers' compensation" is the Miami Herald proclaiming, "Injured employees cheated by workers’ comp law, Miami-Dade judge says."
One legal journalist says that the Padgett case "outlines exactly how workers in the State of Florida have been slowly boiled to death."
Those are pretty incendiary words.
But that's okay because workers' compensation is getting attention by the public.
People out in the "real" world frankly don't give a rat's arse about workers' compensation until it affects them, and then it's too late - they become subject to the system and they either learn to get through it, or they have a difficult time and become scarred (not necessarily physically) for life.
The Padgett case, and a rumor that there are up to four other such cases pending in other circuit courts in Florida, is drawing public attention to our industry and we have the ability to use that attention to show what workers' compensation is about.
You know, and I know, but much of the public doesn't know, that workers' compensation does work for most people most of the time. That's why, in general, 20 percent of all cases generate 80 percent of all expense - because most of the time the system works.
And for those 20 percenters, some are "big" cases where really bad things happened and others are just situations where the system doesn't work very well.
In some cases the law isn't flexible enough to "bend" to conform to those fact patterns. Some cases involve victims of bad things happening while in the system. And there are some who frankly bring it upon themselves.
But through it all, the vast majority of people that work in the system, that try to make things happen for the betterment of society and mankind, do so with the conviction that they are contributing to the bigger picture and doing the "right thing."
Sometimes I succumb to the negative pressure and frankly get down on myself for being a part of "the system." Sometimes it's difficult to rise above the bad noise and see that in the grand scheme of life we really do try to make things better.
So much of a workers' compensation cases outcome is dependent on personal factors: with the injured worker, with the employer, the claim adjuster, attorney, doctor and whomever else may touch that case.
When I talk to my colleagues, while we may disagree on how to accomplish the goal of ensuring work comp DOES work, the pervasive sentiment is all about "doing the right thing."
I still believe that workers' compensation is vitally important to an overall healthy economy. Sometimes it fails and we have discussions on why, who, what, how, etc.
Now the Padgett case gives US the opportunity to have conversations with the public about workers' compensation, and what it means.
Maybe Padgett isn't that important legally, but I think it carries a lot of conversational weight in and outside the industry and we should not discount that. The case empowers all of us to debate, to converse, to talk and listen.
Don't be threatened, and don't start celebrating, but do start talking. There's nothing wrong with outsiders hearing about workers' compensation. If nothing more, Padgett makes work comp great cocktail party conversation.