A substitute workers’ compensation reform bill moving its way through the Senate includes several elements that employers and insurers believe will help reduce the costs of the system. The House Committee on Workforce Development and Workforce Safety’s substitute for Senate Bill 1 added several items on the employer/insurer wish list.
These include provisions to keep in check the power of administrative law judges by requiring immediate review of all administrative law judges. In addition, the substitute requires that administrative law judges serve terms and undergo a reappointment process every 12 years. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce has blamed “a highly politicized labor commission and a decade of judicial activism from unlimited termed governor appointees as administrative law judges” for eroding the “balance the system was intended to uphold.”
The substitute bill also includes stronger provisions to limit attorney involvement. The House substitute would require that attorneys’ fees be based on the amount in the dispute above the initial offer of settlement by the employer. In addition, the new bill includes provisions that establish a higher legal threshold for accident, injury and occupational disease and abrogate case holdings in order to limit which injuries are compensable.
Employers and insurers have complained that the legal theory of “positional risk”—which states that any attachment to the workforce means the employee injury is covered—has unfairly increased the costs imposed by the system.
Though Republicans control the Missouri Legislature and governorship, it’s unclear whether the aggressive bill, which passed the Senate and has been referred to the House rules committee, will see its way past the influence of the plaintiffs’ bar.
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