Neighboring Texas is the only remaining state that allows employer to opt out of the workers’ compensation system after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that such a system upset the so-called Grand Bargain.
Three years ago, large retailers and other large employers convinced Oklahoma lawmakers to pass a law that allowed them to self-insure against workplace injuries; after a successful push in the Sooner State, advocates introduced similar bills in Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and several other states as part of a nationwide push to effectively dismantle the workers’ compensation system. But the tables started to turn when a national media outlet published a study that opt-out plans meant substantially lower benefits for injured workers. Next, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a rather arcane attorneys’ fee structure was unconstitutional, and the move is expected to give injured workers more options. Earlier this year, Oklahoma’s highest court struck down a provision that sharply curtailed benefits for permanently disabled workers.
Dallas attorney Bill Minick, one of the nation’s most visible anti-workers’ compensation advocates, said his company would continue its efforts, because the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling was limited to “Oklahoma’s unique constitution.”
Why We Have Workers’ Compensation Laws
First and foremost, these laws are the best way to uphold worker safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration – the chief federal agency in this area – has only one inspector for every 59,000 workers, so it cannot possibly enforce existing laws. Many employers cannot be counted on to self-police, because they are anxious to put profits before people, especially in competitive environments.
Second, workers’ compensation takes pressure off other public benefits programs, like Medicaid and Social Security. Therefore, these programs can focus on helping the long-term, non-work disabled, while the companies that set the stage for injury must accept the consequence of their action or inaction.
Third, we had a deal. In the Grand Bargain, our great-grandfathers gave up their rights to pursue their claims in court so that today’s workers could quickly obtain full and fair compensation for their economic losses. Benefits are still relatively high in Louisiana, but that is not the case in many other states, most notably Florida and New York. If Mr. Minick insists on pursuing the opt-out agenda, perhaps injured workers should also have the right to opt out of the system.
Injured workers are entitled to economic damages. For a free consultation with an experienced pensation attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. Home and hospital visits are available.