|Author||Subject: Can't every working man afford to wait several years, and fight for medical, in court, and mediation for what should have been his all along, against a billion dollar company?|
|Tarzan|| Posted At 22:09:25 05/19/2001
Law Makers Ponder Health of Workersí Comp System
Senate Bill 485 is the focus of legislators tying to initiate reforms in how Oregon deals with its injured workers.
Given a week to digest a court ruling that gave some injured workers the right to sue their employers, the Legislature is taking its first careful steps to determine what if anything, needs to be done to ensue the long-term health of Oregon's workersí compensation system.
Lawmakers most immediate concern is the fate of Senate Bill 485, a proposed package of workers compensation reform. Crafted by a six-person team of business and labor leaders, the bill includes tweaks to provide injured workers more leverage in a system many think favors employers.
The proposals is aimed at developing fairer standards and benefits for injured workers, compelling faster decisions and giving employers greater certainly about future liability.
Senate President Gene Derfler, R-Salem, and Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber met Wednesday to discuss options. Tehy6 will call on labor and management representatives to convene during the next two weeks to craft fixes to SB485.
The bill passed the Senate 25-5 in March and was in a House committee when the Oregon Supreme Court issued a May 10 decision in favor of Terry Smothers, a former technician for Gresham Transfer Co. Whose claim was denied in the mid-1990ís.
The Woreke3rs Compensation Board said the mist he inhaled on the job was less than 50 percent responsible for his respiratory problems. He sued his employer but lost in two lower courts, based on state law that says workers, compensation is the only remedy for injured workers.
But the Supreme Court ruled that in limited cases where a claim is denied because it is not deemed the major contributing cause of an injury workers have a constitutional right to sue. About 7 percent of claims are denied on the major contributing cause rule, a centerpiece of the 1990 workers, compensation reforms that helped control once soaring premiums.
Derfler said the decision shatters an 80-year old agreement between management and labor to use workers compensation at the exclusive remedy for workplace injury claims. Many employers said the decision would lead to lawsuits and higher costs.
Union representatives and Democrats said the decisionsí scope is limited to a few cases and merely balances the workers compensation system. Any fixes that might be needed are manageable, said Bob Shiprack a union lobbyist for the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades.
The decision put SB485 on hold. Some employers testified this week that they could no longer support the bill because it would be too costly in light of the court decision.
What both sides do agree on is that it's too early to know how the decision affects the workers compensation system.
JL Wilson of the National Federation of Independent Business estimates the ruling affects 3 percent to 4 percent of workers compensation claims and will add form one half to 10 percent in costs. Others say that because the decision would increase the number of claims approved SB485 could reduce an employers liability risk.
Response to the ruling could range form nothing to a ballot measure that would rewrite the constitution said Mark Gibson Kitzhaberís top labor policy advisor. And Derfler has indicated that lawmakers might need a special session in the fall to implement any recommended changes.
I donít know how to fix it, said Lisa Trussell, an Associated Oregon Industries lobbyist who worked on SB485, because we haven't got a grip on exactly whatís wrong.
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