As Missouri workers' compensation attorneys, we've written at length about the need for reform in terms of Missouri's Second Injury fund. The fund, designed to supply benefits to reinjured workers, is bankrupt: currently, the fund owes over $921 million. There are 27,000 cases still pending, new cases filed every month, and at present, over 170 injured Missouri workers are not receiving their benefits. Now, a new Senate Bill (No. 572) proposes several changes to state workers' compensation laws, several of which are intended to address the fund's numerous issues.
The Second Injury fund is financed by a flat fee assessed to all Missouri employers. This is in contrast to the main worker's compensation fund, which is also funded by employers, but their rates are determined based on the likelihood that an accident will happen in a particular work environment. According to Senator Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, this system is causing employers to move as many cases as possible into the scope of the Second Injury fund, so they won't have to pay higher rates to the main fund.
Crowell believes the Second Injury fund should be completely eliminated, arguing that there is no need to continue the program. Part of the fund's purpose is to protect injured Missourians from being turned away by employers simply because they are injured. Crowell says that the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act now prevents employer discrimination against handicapped applicants, so the fund is no longer needed for this protection.
Bill No. 572 would keep the Second Injury fund in operation, but it would modify and/or limit certain of the fund's current functions. Notably, it would place limitations on the types of medical conditions and injuries that would be accepted as pre-existing conditions. Only previous military or work-related injuries would be accepted: permanent partial disability claims would be eliminated from the fund. Also, the bill includes a provision that would block payments to claimants who are incarcerated.
In addition to modifying the scope of the Second Injury fund, the bill would make a change related to co-workers and their liability for workplace injuries. No 572 only holds co-workers accountable for injuries that are caused by purposeful actions, not for injuries that are the result of "purely accidental happenings," even if an accident is caused by a co-worker's negligence.
Bill No. 572 is supported by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and several other business organizations. Supporters maintain that it will save employers money, which will in turn save Missouri jobs. Those who oppose the bill worry that it will only make it more difficult for injured workers to collect badly-needed benefits. In the end, both sides agree on one thing: the most desirable outcome would involve more Missouri jobs and less money owed by the state. The debatable issue is whether or not this bill provides the best means to that end.
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