Tag Archives: grand bargain

Fixing Illinois’ Outdated Workers’ Comp

The American workplace has changed dramatically since Illinois created its workers’ compensation system in 1911. But the workers’ compensation system, especially in Illinois, has not kept pace. Not only does the current system do a poor job of serving the majority of workers, especially parents and other workers who need flexibility to work hours outside the traditional workday and in off-site locations such as their own homes, but it also prioritizes the financial interests of groups such as lawyers and workers’ compensation doctors over the needs of both workers and employers.

The system needs to be reformed. Illinois policymakers should allow workers and employers to opt out of the state-run workers’ compensation system and to craft their own agreements around their particular circumstances – rather than forcing all workers and employers to adhere to rigid regulations that often no longer serve their purpose.

The early 20th century origins of workers’ compensation

At the turn of the 20th century, increasing numbers of Americans found themselves in new, hazardous working conditions in the jobs created by the Industrial Revolution. But few protections existed for workers who might be unable to support their families if they became injured at work. Workers’ compensation was designed to remedy that situation by providing medical care and income replacement to injured workers. The system, however, has not evolved to meet the needs of today’s workers and employers and is ill-suited to address the problems of the modern workplace.

Changes in the modern workplace

Far fewer people work in inherently risky jobs today. The industrial sector employed nearly a third of the workforce in 1900, but employed just 19% in 1999. And even today’s dangerous jobs have become less hazardous. Deaths per 100,000 workers fell more than 93% to just four by the end of the 20th century, down from 61 deaths per 100,000 workers at the start.

But workers also face new challenges. In the middle of the 20th century, just 30% of women were part of the workforce. That number has risen to nearly 60%. Increasing numbers of Americans must now balance work responsibilities with caring for a child or elderly relative: 82% of parents are in families where both parents work. Many employers have met those challenges by offering more flexible work environments such as telecommuting and flexible schedules. But workers’ compensation – a system supposed to protect workers – increasingly stands in the way of new work arrangements to meet workers’ needs.

See also: How Should Workers’ Compensation Evolve?  

Workers’ compensation was designed for an industrial workplace. Yet, it applies equally to a telecommuter working from home. A professor who slips on papers in his home office or an interior designer who trips on her dog can claim workers’ compensation.

That makes businesses less likely to give workers flexibility to work at home or, when employers do, to let workers set their own hours. A worker who answers email at night, after taking time to pick up children from school and prepare dinner, could still be considered in the workplace as though the distinction between work and home could be drawn as simply as when workers punched a time card. Employers have little control over possible costs if the employee is injured at home, and the broken workers’ compensation system gives employers an incentive to take away flexible working arrangements for fear of legal liability.

These problems are not unique to Illinois, but the Prairie State is unusual both in having one of the most costly workers’ compensation systems in America and in not having exemptions for small businesses or domestic workers. The absence of an exemption for domestic employees hurts increasing numbers of workers who must balance work with child or elder care. As with telecommuting, this can affect all workers, but it disproportionately affects women, who tend to spend more time caring for children. And, while not everyone can afford a live-in nanny, reducing impediments to hiring domestic help makes it easier for women to hold more senior positions.

Opting out of the state-run workers’ compensation system

While Illinois has one of the most restrictive workers’ compensation systems, Texas has one of the least restrictive, even allowing employers to opt out entirely. Critics of the Texas system allege this has led employers to cut services, but the evidence suggests employers prefer to save money by cutting areas prone to fraud, while often increasing benefits that employees value. Employers often provide better benefits than required for the same reason they offer flextime: to recruit the best employees at the lowest cost.

Special interests benefit from the current workers’ compensation system to the detriment of workers and employers

The government-imposed workers’ compensation system has also been far more susceptible to co-option by special interests. While workers and employers use the workers’ compensation system only when there is an injury, lawyers interact with workers’ compensation every day. As a result, although the workers’ compensation system is supposed to provide quick resolution to workers’ claims, the powerful lawyers’ lobby helped create a system that can stretch claims out over years. This costs businesses money and denies injured workers rapid settlement of their medical bills.

Medical providers, too, have benefited from a system that unnecessarily prolongs treatment and facilitates the overprescription of certain medications, including addictive opioids.

See also: The Pretzel Logic on Oklahoma Option  

Employers and workers both have an incentive to design a better system, but the false presumption that the government-run system is better prevents them from doing so. Interestingly, Texas employers who opted out of the state-run workers’ compensation system have all but eliminated opioid overprescription.

Fixing Illinois’ workers’ compensation system means government must step back and allow workers and employers to reach agreements that make sense in their specific situations – arrangements that suit the needs of workers and employers, rather than line the pockets of special interest groups benefiting financially from the current system.

Where the Oklahoma Court Went Wrong

This essay takes issue with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent decision in Torres v. Seaboard Foods to declare some workers’ compensation (WC) laws unconstitutional.

The problem with the opinions of Justices Edmonson, Combs and Colbert isn’t simply that they reached the wrong conclusion — but that they reached it for the wrong reasons.

To justify their decision, all three justices went out of their way to invoke the grand bargain, a historic compromise between employers and employees that guarantees medical and wage replacement benefits to injured workers. Before the grand bargain was struck in 1917, most U.S. employees injured on the job had to sue their employers for damages. The process was often prohibitively expensive, onerous and time-consuming for hardworking citizens who found themselves unable to earn a paycheck — when they needed funds to cover medical bills and other expenses during their convalescence.

The grand bargain is worth championing because it put an end to this intolerable state of affairs, thanks, in part, to luminaries such as Crystal Eastman, who thought an injured worker shouldn’t have to spend “nearly half of (his settlement) to pay the cost of fighting for it.”

See also: Taking a New Look at the ‘Grand Bargain’

Eastman’s emphasis on avoiding long, costly court battles was typical of the thinking that guided the U.S. into embracing the grand bargain.

It is therefore disappointing to see Justice Colbert argue that he is “forced to insure that claimants and employers in the (WC) system have their day in court.” Colbert’s rationale is contrary to grand bargain principles.

The only thing forcing Colbert to such a conclusion is his decision to put the interests of injury lawyers ahead of the interests of injured workers and of the employers who provide the benefits those workers deserve.

If the Oklahoma Supreme Court is as committed to preserving grand bargain principles as Justice Colbert claims, it doesn’t need to do anything revolutionary. It only needs to rule in the same way that it did in 1917, when it initially recognized the state legislature’s ability to pass special legislation concerning WC in the interest of the general public.

This article is the summary of a much longer essay on the topic, which draws on numerous primary and secondary sources and which you can find here.

workers' compensation

Hidden Motives on Workers’ Comp

As legal alternatives to workers’ compensation (WC) grow in number and popularity, employers will save money, and employees will—in aggregate—receive better care. [1] As this market grows, my income will also grow.

Such forthrightness should seem unnecessary from a proponent of the opt-out movement, like me. But a vocal (and boisterous) contingent of the opposition to alternatives avoids the necessary logical inversion by hiding behind other, less relevant motives.

As companies move away from WC, the income for opponents of alternatives will shrink, though they will never acknowledge financial well-being as a motive in opposing the opt-out. Attorneys, judges, cost-containment companies, third-party administrators, industry regulators, the NCCI and a host of other WC stakeholders [2] veil their financial motives by redirecting the argument to “what is fair and just for the employee.” They are being disingenuous.

See Also: The Pretzel Logic on Oklahoma Option

Over time, it becomes easier to expose financially motivated WC stakeholders. But a second component of the opposition is free from poorly hidden financial agendas. This ideological group—which compels me to write this essay—claims to oppose free market alternatives on altruistic grounds. The group’s members—just like their financially motivated brethren—lean quite heavily on the noble ideas that they hope are conveyed in the two-word, nebulous term “grand bargain” and that they treat as sacrosanct.[3]

The U.S. was a little late to the WC party. Pressure had been building on policy makers since the second half of the 19th century, but it was the Pittsburgh Survey by the Russell Sage Foundation that provided the greatest influence in the rapid adoption of WC laws in the U.S. between 1911 and 1920. Anecdotes (e.g., The Jungle) helped, but legislatures needed statistically compelling factual evidence to reform the legal schemes governing workplace accidents. Crystal Eastman stood and delivered. In her seminal study, Work-accidents and the Law (which was part of the Pittsburgh Survey and was published in 1910), Eastman gathered and reported on workplace accident data for a 12-month period between 1906 and 1907 in the small but industrially relevant sample of Allegheny County, PA. She rightly and importantly spent the first 200 pages of her study explaining the devastating effects of workplace accidents on individuals, families and communities.[4] After dozens of case studies concerning widows, orphans and maimed workers, she dove into the problem with aplomb.

The root of the problem was that common law systems couldn’t keep up with changes stemming from the Industrial Revolution—especially those in the U.S. It’s no coincidence many countries that eventually committed to industrialization were also, to some extent, relying on English common law. From the Pittsburgh survey, Eastman summarized the problematic common law system on page 206 as follows:

  1. It is wasteful:
  • The state expends a large amount in fruitless litigation.
  • Employers expend a large amount, as the result of work accidents, only a small part of which is actually paid in settlement of accident claims. 
  • The injured employes [sic] spend nearly half of what they get in settlements and damages to pay the cost of fighting for it.
  1. It is slow; recovery is long delayed, while the need is immediate.
  2. It fosters misunderstanding and bitterness between employer and employees.
  3. It encourages both parties to dishonest methods. 
  4. The institutions which have been resorted to as an escape from its evils, liability insurance and relief associations based upon a contract of release, are often advantageous to employers, but disadvantageous in important respects to employees. 

The irony—over a century later—is too obvious. Eastman’s first four points might as well be the outline for states like Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee when contemplating legal alternatives to their inefficient, caustic, modern WC systems. Granted, there was substantially more urgency for Eastman when she created this list—deaths per 100,000 hours worked were at all-time highs. Today, that statistic is at an all-time low. As significant as our modern occupational accident problems are, they are a different breed from—even if they are similarly described to—what Eastman studied.

Eastman’s study was so powerful that many state legislatures used it to outline their original WC laws. Stakeholders were generally agreeable to this grand bargain, which, 1) prevented employees from suing employers for common law negligence, 2) required employers to pay medical and lost income benefits for employees injured on the job and 3) removed negligence from the conversation by making the entire WC scheme “no fault” in nature.

But there are some important contextual factors that contemporary WC stakeholders forget to mention regarding the grand bargain that gave us WC to begin with. First, most states made these new-fangled WC systems optional. That’s right; of the 45 states that passed WC legislation between 1911 and 1920, 36 allowed employers to choose which system they wished to participate in. The original Texas law—which still stands iconoclastically today—was perfectly ordinary when it was originally enacted in 1913 (it gave private employers the opportunity to subscribe to WC or stick with common law, albeit without three powerful common law defenses). When the grand bargain was being born, options were the norm.

See Also: Key Misunderstanding on Oklahoma Option

A second, forgotten characteristic of the grand bargain is how disputes—though rare—were handled. By design, attorney involvement was minimal. One of the primary goals of the grand bargain was to decrease the amount of litigation, not to recategorize and grow it. Eastman’s suggested mechanism (pp. 211-220) for dispute resolution was arbitration, which was embraced by a number of states.[5] However, never count attorneys out. Primal due process ideals eventually compelled them to increase their involvement (and compensation), all in the name of giving clients the day in court to which they are constitutionally entitled. This aberration—attorney involvement—is now sold to the public as part and parcel of the grand bargain.

Opponents will accuse me of misinterpreting Eastman’s time and message. All interested parties are, of course, welcome to read her study [6] and draw their own conclusions.

We invite interested parties to tour the facilities of our opt-out employers and interview employees. They can even search for hidden torture chambers filled with injured workers, but they won’t find them, because they do not exist. Our employees are happy, and our employers are delivering top-notch care to them at a fraction of the cost of WC.

But our opponents won’t accept this reality. “Facts be damned!” they cry. “The employer needs to pay full fare for WC.” That reasoning, again, is understandable from those WC stakeholders who fear they will starve if they can’t slurp from the trough of WC. Inexplicably, however, this attitude is even more pronounced among the opposition’s altruistic contingent, which maintains that employers must continue covering the inflated costs of employee welfare under WC, whether or not that financial burden improves the situation of injured employees.

Medicare presents an interesting litmus test for this ideological perspective. It is obvious to anyone paying attention that our entitlement healthcare program for seniors could—and should—deliver better outcomes at substantially lower costs. This is self-evident to Americans of all political stripes, in large part because we all pay for those costs via taxes. We would all like to see outcomes improve and our tax burden decrease.

In both Texas nonsubscription and the Oklahoma option, we eliminate the vast majority of legal overhead, which allows us to focus on medical outcomes. The same sorts of inefficiencies and abuses that occur within Medicare also infect WC, so it shouldn’t be hard to believe that the free market (given the legal opportunity to do so) can economize them.[7]

Yet, our vocal, altruistic opponents won’t allow their own criticisms of Medicare to influence their opinion about opt-out saving money and improving outcomes. It’s perfectly obvious that Medicare (a healthcare system rife with bureaucratic inefficiencies) could deliver better results at lower costs if it were redesigned. However, when we demonstrate that WC (a healthcare system equally rife with bureaucratic inefficiencies) could—and should—deliver better results at lower costs, they opponent of opt-out close their eyes and cover their ears. “It can’t be done!” they cry.

Somehow, from this perverse perspective, the solution to workplace injuries does not need to make the little guys (the employees) any better off, so long as it does a sufficient job of making the big guys (the employers) pay.

Ah, the joys of spending other people’s money.

This litmus test provided by Medicare shows our altruistic opponents have an unexpected hidden agenda: politics. Is such a desire—to have the employer pay more than necessary—relevant to the welfare of employees? No, it is not.

It is political. It is an impediment. It is stupid.[8]

The grand bargain was about rationalizing what had become out-of-control non-solutions for workplace injuries. Throughout the past century, many WC systems have become burdensome for employees and employers alike. They are now, ironically, non-solutions. The grand bargain wasn’t fundamentally about WC; it was about protecting employees and employers as sensibly and pragmatically as possible. It accomplished that objective with minimal use of attorneys, while generally allowing employers to elect (or subscribe) to a statutory scheme that took the name “workmen’s compensation.”

With slightly different jargon, that sounds eerily similar to what Oklahoma did in 2013. The Sooner State took a critical look at its non-solution for workplace injuries and created an alternative to more efficiently protect employer and employee alike. This statutory scheme has taken the popular name of “the Oklahoma option.”

What’s next for opt-out proponents? First and foremost, Oklahoma must tend to its new creation. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see what other states will do—if anything.

What’s next for our opponents? I suspect they will not advertise their fear of losing income. They will continue to tout the grand bargain as sacrosanct, without examining the historical context from which it emerged. They will try to hide behind arguments that appear noble.

We at WorkersCompensationOptions.com will remain at the cutting edge of this movement and will provide whatever legal occupational accident programs our clients wish to implement. Our results already speak for themselves—and they will continue to do so.

 

[1] If the reader is determined to think of “care” in only post-injury terms, so be it; my claim still stands. However, our idea of “care” starts with motivating employers to create the safest workplaces possible and motivating employees to avoid injuries in the first place. Because “no fault” is a cornerstone of the WC structure, our emphasis on safety is far easier to convey to our opt-out clients than to our WC clients.

[2] The panoply of stakeholders in WC (ranging from payroll auditors to WC Medicare Set Aside reporters and from private investigators to coding specialists tasked with maximizing reimbursements) is quite a spectacle. To avoid overwhelming my audience, I generally categorize this excessive cast of characters into the five communities of WC: insurance, medical, legal, employer and employee. Watch the first seven minutes of this video for an explanation of how perverse the incentives are for most of these stakeholders. Regrettably, the employer and employee have become afterthoughts in a system ostensibly designed to meet their needs.

[3] In both form and content, this article borrows heavily from the first 12 pages of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. In particular, I have modeled my discussion on his examination of “the obsolescence of ideas,” where he explains the danger of leaving “sacrosanct” concepts unexamined as a matter of convenience.

[4] Sensitive readers beware; stories of aching necks are completely ignored by Eastman in favor of gruesome accounts of deaths and dismemberments.

[5] Arbitration was much less formal a century ago. Typically, a disinterested but experienced third party would simply perform a records review and make a determination. Testimony could be heard. For a glimpse of how WC disputes were resolved in the 1920s, see pages 88-194 of Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin 301, April 1922. The report by Carl Hookstadt details the various methods of dispute resolution for 21 states and two Canadian provinces. Voluntary resolution between employer and employee was universally sought. In its broadest sense, “arbitration”—in varying layers—successfully prevented litigation in the vast majority of cases (with the California sample offering the singular, glaring exception).

[6] I urge all industry insiders to read Eastman’s survey, as it’s fascinating, historically significant and accessible for free via the link above.

[7] While this argument is esoteric, I remind the reader we have actual results. Texas nonsubscription and the Oklahoma option are not theoretical; they are real.

[8] Reza Aslan delivered one of the greatest uses of the term “stupid” in September 2014, when interviewed on CNN. This nine-minute video is certainly worth watching in its entirety, but, for his thoughtful and appropriate deployment of a term many of us are too cowardly to invoke, watch from 6:20 to 7:00.

Taking a New Look at the ‘Grand Bargain’

Workers’ compensation was established more than 100 years ago as a “grand bargain” between employers and labor. Injured workers gave up their right to sue employers in civil court for workplace injuries, making workers’ compensation the “exclusive remedy” for such injuries. In exchange, injured workers received statutory benefits in a no-fault system. Over time, we have seen a number of different challenges to this grand bargain.

Is Exclusive Remedy Exclusive?

The answer to this question is clearly no. Nearly every state has a very narrow statutory exception to exclusive remedy if the injury was caused by an “intentional act” of the employer. Some states have a lower threshold if it is determined that the employer’s actions were “substantially certain” to cause injury. In both of these cases, lawsuits filed by injured workers against their employer rarely succeed, and most suits do not survive past summary judgment.

However, there are many other ways in which the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation can be circumvented. These include:

  • Statutory Exceptions – New York employers in the building trades are still exposed to civil litigation in addition to workers’ compensation under the Scaffold Law. This allows workers in the construction industry to file suit against their employer if the injury arose from an “elevation-related hazard.” New York is currently the only state that still has such legislation in place, with Illinois repealing its Structural Work Act in 1995.
  • Third-Party-Over Actions – Some states allow civil litigation surrounding a work injury under a third-party-over action. In such cases, the employee sues a third party for contributing to the injury and then the third party brings in the employer on a contributory negligence action. For example, if an accident involves machinery, the machine manufacturer can bring the employer into the suit, alleging that it trained employees inadequately, that the machine was not properly maintained or that it was modified by the employer.
  • Dual Capacity Suits – Dual capacity suits allow the employee to sue the employer as supplier of a product, provider of a service or owner of premises. For example, if a worker is injured using a machine manufactured by the employer, some states allow that injured employee to file suit against the employer based on its negligence as the manufacturer.
  • RICO Suits – Filing claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a more recent method to attempt to avoid exclusive remedy protections. This federal law was originally designed to fight organized crime. In Michigan, Colorado and Arizona, the courts allowed injured workers to pursue a RICO complaint against their employer on the grounds that the employer “conspired” to deny medical treatment to injured workers by limiting physician referrals and prescribing practices and exercising undue influence over treating physicians.
  • Constitutional Challenges – Constitutional challenges are the latest avenue for attempting to circumvent exclusive remedy protections. There was much attention given to the Padgett case in Florida, where a judge ruled that the workers’ compensation statutes were unconstitutional because statutory changes that reduced benefits to workers and raised thresholds of compensability had eroded the “grand bargain” to the point that it was no longer valid. This case was reversed on appeal because of a technicality, so the higher courts never ruled on the merits of the argument.

Is No Fault Really No Fault?

Again, the answer is clearly no. Many states allow for a workers’ compensation claim to be disputed if it is proven that the injured worker was intoxicated at the time of the accident. In addition, some states allow for a reduction in benefits if the accident occurred because the worker violated a safety rule, such as not following lock-out/tag-out procedures or not using protective gear.

Unintended Consequences of Statutory Change and Litigation

Courts in Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania have ruled that, if a work injury is excluded under the workers’ compensation statutes, the employee can bring a civil suit against the employer. The courts are hesitant to provide no means for an injured worker to pursue compensation, so when statutory language is tightened up and certain conditions are excluded from workers’ compensation coverage it opens the door for potential civil action.

This issues also arises when the workers’ compensation claim is denied because the worker is not in “course and scope” of employment. If the worker falls on the employer’s premises, and the employer denies the claim under workers’ compensation, then the employee can sue under civil liability.

Not All Workers Are Protected

In many states, there are workers who are not required to be covered under workers’ compensation. In 14 states, smaller employers with five employees or fewer do not have to secure coverage. In 17 states, there is no legal requirement for coverage of agricultural workers. Finally, half the states do not require coverage for domestic workers, and five states specifically exclude coverage for these employees.

Opt-Out Legislation

Opt-out legislation, by its very nature, allows for an option to the grand bargain of traditional workers’ compensation. What many do not realize is that workers’ compensation has always been optional in Texas. Both employers and workers can choose to opt out of the workers’ compensation system and, instead, be subject to civil litigation in the event of employee injuries.

Oklahoma now allows employers an “option” to traditional workers’ compensation. Plans must be approved by the state and must provide the same level of benefits as workers’ compensation. Such plans provide employers greater control over choice of medical providers.

Opt-out legislation is currently being considered in Tennessee and South Carolina, and it is likely that similar legislation will be introduced in additional states in the future.

Causation Thresholds

There is significant variation among states in the threshold for a condition to result in a compensable workers’ compensation claim. In Tennessee, the injury must “primarily arise” from work (50% or greater). However, in California and Illinois, if the work is a contributing factor (1% or greater), the employer is responsible for that condition under workers’ compensation. Employers argue that these low causation thresholds undermine the grand bargain by greatly expanding what is considered a workers’ compensation injury.

Conclusion

As workers’ compensation has evolved, there have been many exceptions to the original premise behind the “grand bargain.” The courts have continued to allow exceptions to exclusive remedy and expanded causation standards. Statutory reforms have also resulted in classifications of employees and work conditions that are excluded from workers’ compensation. These trends are expected to continue.

Is Workers’ Comp on the Ropes?

Well, the Oklahoma experiment was fun while it lasted.

Dramatic reforms there in 2013 were intended to move the state workers’ compensation system from a court-based model to an administrative one. The experiment established Oklahoma as just the second state where employers can “opt out” of workers’ comp entirely, although they are required to offer alternate, privately managed plans.

However, thanks to a court decision a week ago, employers may be opting out of comp a lot more than they intended or even desire. That is because a Pottawatomie County district judge ruled that an injured tire worker can sue his employer for negligence because the injury was “foreseeable.”

While courts in the past have allowed tort action based on extreme negligence, the concept of a “foreseeable” accident doesn’t necessarily come close to that standard. The judge’s decision certainly risks broadening the definition of when an employee may be entitled to damages. After all, it might be “foreseeable” that a prison guard could get injured in an exercise yard fight, but that doesn’t mean his employer was negligent.

Injured tire worker Darrell Duck sued his employer, Hibdon Tire Plus, for injuries to his neck and back that he sustained while using equipment to try to loosen a bolt on a wheel. Workers’ compensation attorney Bob Burke, who is representing Duck, said the court “has issued a monumental ruling that challenges the foundation of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system.” He says, “The sloppy drafting of that law in 2013 has caused so many problems. It has really created a crisis now.”

A number of attorneys have raised constitutional challenges to the new Oklahoma laws. I have to give them credit. When Florida underwent significant reforms in 2003, it took attorneys in that state more than 10 years of whaling away at it before they tore a few holes in the system. The Oklahoma boys seemingly have done it in less than a year.

At stake here, of course, is the future of “exclusive remedy,” not just in Oklahoma but across the nation. There has been some discussion on this over the years, but only recently have court decisions started giving urgency to the dialogue. There are several key elements playing into this new melodrama:

  1. The assigning of guilt, or blame, in a no-fault system.
  2. The erosion of benefits provided injured workers’ to the point they are no longer adequately protected by the system.
  3. Increasing burdens on employers, now responsible for co-morbidity and social issues not of their making.

The first item listed, in my view, offers the greatest potential threat to exclusive remedy. I’ve talked about this before. The case I have cited in Tennessee is a terrific example. An electrical lineman was successfully denied benefits because he failed to follow established safety rules. Employers and insurance people I know loved that decision – after all, if it is the fault of the worker, why should we have to pay? Except, the “grand bargain: and “exclusive remedy” in workers’ comp are double-edged swords. When they swing back the other way and start allowing negligence claims that include pain and suffering awards, employers will be singing a different tune. Bottom line: You cannot assign guilt in a no-fault system, either to the employee or the employer, or the entire concept will come crashing to its knees.

The Padgett case in Florida is a good example of item number two, the erosion of benefits. In that case, a judge with very little exposure to workers’ comp declared the entire system unconstitutional. The decision was largely based on what he viewed as the continuing degradation of benefits in Florida over many years since the grand bargain. He declared that the erosion undermined the original intent of the program, and that the system no longer serves Florida’s injured workers in a fair and constitutionally sound manner. While the case itself will have limited impact for jurisdictional reasons, it is a major shot across the bow for legislators and businesses in that state.

The third item I listed is not one normally cited when discussing threats to exclusive remedy, but I think it is a mistake to ignore it. Employers today are being asked – make that required – to pay for conditions and health issues that have nothing to do with a claim; and social demands along with increasing beliefs of entitlement are pressuring employers to cover much more than they would have had to do 40 years ago. As we all get old, fat, diabetic and mentally unstable, this situation will only get worse. Employers forced to pick up the tab for these significant, yet unrelated, conditions are getting fed up with the system, and are more open to its eventual demise. For these employers, cases like our Tennessee lineman are almost seen as “payback” for what they increasingly view as a lopsided and unjust system.

The fact that their injured workers also feel it is lopsided and unjust should be telling us something.

While it is true that our process-intensive, complex and confusing system has lost its way on some fronts, people anxious to return to the days of unending litigation and open liability should rethink that position. For the vast majority of employers and their injured workers, workers’ comp has worked for more than 100 years, and the statistics bear that out. There was a reason both sides worked together to create this mess in the first place; the mess it replaced was even worse.

So we should fix workers’ compensation (starting, of course, by calling it workers’ recovery) and protect the concept of exclusive remedy for another 100 years.

As for our friends in Oklahoma, appeals to the state Supreme Court are sure to manifest themselves. That story is just beginning. No one can clearly see where this trend will take the nation. Alas, while apparently injuries are “foreseeable” in Oklahoma, the future of exclusive remedy is not.