Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MO Businesses Shown Irony in Reform

Missouri went through the reform cycle in 2005. The drum beating was the same rhythm as other "reform" states - that workers' compensation was out of control driving business out of state because too many were getting too much without demonstrating a nexus with occupational exposure, so liberal standards needed to be tightened.

Now Missouri business is crying help because they created a situation that opened exposure to civil liability after reform amended what is, and isn't, an occupational disease in order to control the costs of those claims.

Since workers' compensation reforms in 2005, some occupational disease victims have sued their employers for negligence in civil court to obtain larger settlements than they would receive through workers' compensation - action that was sanctioned by the state's Supreme Court holding that the 2005 "reforms" excluded occupational disease claims from workers’ compensation coverage.

Missouri legislators adjourned their 2011 session May 13, failing to agree on bills to overturn this opinion (among other snafus created by the 2005 "reforms").

Here's a serving of the applicable trite maxims: be careful what you ask for - you just may get it; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; the devil is in the details; there is no free lunch,...

Missouri business made their bed, now they must lay in it. Workers' compensation is a compromise. Business AND labor must remember that there is give and take because work comp is not a product of natural law, but is the consequence of bartered political negotiations.

And when one party at the bargaining table perceives inequity, corrective legislation - watered down through the legislative process - will open holes and/or create new issues identified by the courts.

And because the judicial process is so slow, the "reform" cycle takes about 7 to 10 years. Missouri "reformed" in 2005. We're 6 years into the cycle and the timing is spot on.

As some states (most notably of recent, Illinois) seek to tighten the causation standard for compensability, they would do well to heed lesson from the Missouri experiment: having a liberal workers' compensation system is better for business than not having one at all.

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