Mo. Trial Court Clarifies Comp Reform

January 19, 2006

Missouri’s Cole County Circuit Court has ruled that despite a legislative drafting error, the workers’ compensation reforms enacted last year have been in effect since Senate Bills 1 and 130 became effective in August, 2005.

The trial court recently ruled in favor of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in the case of Liberty Mutual v. Nixon stating that Missouri workers’ comp laws, as amended by the reforms of 2005, “shall apply to all cases within its provisions except those exclusively covered by any federal law.”

“The court has clearly reinforced the intent of the legislature with this ruling” said Robert Hurns, counsel for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), which filed an amicus brief in the case. “This ruling puts the brakes on anyone seeking to game a perceived gap-period where the exclusive remedy provision would not apply. Employers and their insurers can go forward with confidence knowing that the intent and purpose of the workers’ compensation laws have been upheld. The court’s decision has achieved the only logical result, as intended by the legislature.”

In March 2005 Missouri enacted workers’ comp legislation (SB 1 and SB 130), which required employers to pay wage compensation for on-the-job injuries irrespective of fault. Unfortunately, due to a reported legislative oversight, the new law contained a section that conflicted with another section of the state’s workers’ comp act.

In essence, a literal interpretation of the law would produce the illogical result that Chapter 287 applies to all cases within its provisions except for all cases within its provisions. This would have reportedly resulted in accidental on-the-job injuries and deaths being exempted from coverage under the workers’ comp system.

In October 2005 Liberty Mutual filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment, seeking a declaration that the reference to R.S.Mo. 287.120 in R.S.Mo. 287.110.1 was of no legal force and effect and should be stricken from the text of the original bill.”

PCI was granted permission to file an amicus brief in support of Liberty’s position. PCI provided the court with a concise history of workers’ compensation law in Missouri.

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