Re: Employers Over-React to Supreme Court's Ruling for Injured Workers. Hearing on Thursday

Author Subject: Re: Employers Over-React to Supreme Court's Ruling for Injured Workers. Hearing on Thursday
Webmaster Posted At 00:30:33 05/17/2001
The Chicken Littles of the employer community started clucking about the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, yesterday at the House Business and Labor Committee. That decision, announced last week, affirmed the constitutional right of injured workers to seek compensation from negligent employers when they fail to qualify for workers compensation benefits.

The chief complainant at yesterday’s meeting was former State Representative Kevin Mannix, the architect of the now-unconstitutional presumption that workers who are hurt or made ill on the job can be denied benefits under the workers comp system and then denied the right to sue their employers by that same system. This expanded version of “exclusive remedy” was codified in Mannix’s SB 369, passed by the legislature in 1995.

Mannix Proposes to Change the Constitution to Keep Injured Workers Out of Court…Unrepentant for the damage he did to injured workers in 1995, Mannix wants to change the Oregon Constitution in order to re-establish his version of “exclusive remedy.” Mannix proposed to the committee that they refer to the ballot a constitutional amendment that would do two things: (1) put into the constitution a worker’s right to a no-fault workers comp system; and, (2) remove from the constitution a worker’s right to seek damages for injuries via the courts. In effect, Mannix proposes that workers give up a constitutionally-protected right (the right to sue) in exchange for something they already have (a worker’s comp system subject to the whims of the legislature). That’s not going to happen.

Trial Lawyers Agree with Us – The Court’s Decision Will Not Affect Workers Comp Costs…Instead, we like the response articulated by the Oregon Trial Lawyers’ Jim Egan. As Egan pointed out, reflecting our comments in last week’s Legislative Update, the Smothers case will not raise workers’ comp costs by a single dollar. Instead, negligent employers whose negligence causes workplace injuries and illnesses that fail to qualify for benefits under our restrictive workers comp system will now have to defend themselves in court. Or, if employers in general want the workers comp system to protect these negligent employers, they can rewrite the rules of the workers copm system to accept all claims that establish a material cause, rather than a major contributing cause, in the course and scope of employment.

Employers have saved $4 billion in workers comp costs, thanks to a 57% reduction in premiums, since changes to the system were adopted in 1990. They should be able to live with the Smothers case, whereby only negligent employers whose negligence causes workplace injuries and diseases will be at risk. Or, if the employers chose, they can absorb the costs of covering more injured workers in our workers comp system for what is likely to be a modest increase in premiums of two to three per cent.

Testimony will continue tomorrow at the House Business and Labor Committee, 1:00 PM, Hearing Room E, at the State Capitol.

Courtesy of the Oregon AFL-CIO

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