Arkansas High Court Won’t Rule on Workers’ Comp Fairness Issue

October 28, 2008

The Arkansas Supreme Court has reversed the state Workers’ Compensation Commission’s denial of an injured worker’s claim, but said it wouldn’t address his argument that the panel is unconstitutional. However, the Court remained open to the possibility of taking up the constitutionality argument at a later date.

The court reversed the panel’s denial of compensation for Edward Williams of Mountain Home, who was injured in a fall from scaffolding while working for Johnson Custom Homes in 2004. The court ordered new hearings in his case.

Williams’ attorney had argued in the appeal that the commission was structured in a way that could violate the due-process clause of the constitution. He argued that the panel can be overly influenced by the governor, who appoints all three commission members.

Among the commission members, one represents labor, another represents business, and the third is the chairman. Law judges are hired by the commission to evaluate and rule on workers’ claims for compensation. Their decisions can be appealed to the commission.

Justices said they wouldn’t rule on the constitutional challenge because the issue hadn’t been addressed by both sides. But the court indicated that it could consider the issue again later.

“The lack of adversarial development in the present case does not, however, foreclose the possibility of our addressing the constitutional challenge in the future when the issue is properly presented to us,” Justice Donald Corbin wrote in the court’s ruling.

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