As chairman of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission, Liles B. Williams oversees the work of an agency that receives reports of more than 11,000 work-related injuries per year.
Williams sees his role as one of trying to control the costs while assuring that injured workers are treated fairly.
“It is a good feeling when you can be a part of restoring an injured worker to resume his job and make a living for himself and his family.
“It is also a good feeling when you can be a part of a system that makes the workplace more effective, safe and, hopefully, profitable. When a company experiences high losses paying injured benefits, that increases the cost of business, and increases the price of their goods and services – to say nothing of the poor worker who is injured.”
Williams said the commission constantly works to control costs so employers are not unduly penalized and paying more than necessary.
“At the same time you have to balance that scale, and provide the highest quality of service. For example, we don’t want workers to go to doctors without a lot of experience in that particular area.
“Work-related injuries that require a lot of orthopedic work such as knee and back surgeries can be pretty expensive. We must have fee schedules that encourage leading doctors to take these patients and get them back on their feet and back on the job,” Williams said.
There is some evidence that the investment of Mississippi businesses in safety training has paid off. The number of workers’ compensation claims has decreased significantly since 1994 when more than 20,000 injuries were reported.
“Many of our employers are being more aggressive and more effective in safety training and accident prevention programs,” said Williams, who has chaired the commission for seven years.
“In addition to better safety training, if you look back at the types of jobs we have available in our state, we have fewer construction jobs and fewer manufacturing jobs than 20 years ago. Those were jobs prone to injuries.”
As chairman, Williams has two major responsibilities. He is the administrative head of the agency and heads up claims administration.
About 85 percent to 90 percent of workers’ compensation claims are handled between the employee and employers in a routine manner.
Either party can file a petition to controvert if dissatisfied with the settlement. When that happens, the claim is assigned to one of eight administrative law judges.
Many of those are ultimately settled without going to a full-fledged hearing. For those that go to a hearing, an administrative law judge renders a decision. If either party is not happy with that decision, they can appeal to the full commission.
“At the point, the full commission, three of us, hear that case argued and make our ruling,” Williams said. “If they don’t like our ruling, it can be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.”
The commissioners’ decisions on claims come after reading cases that other contain a great deal of medical information. Cases aren’t always easy to decide.
“But once I’ve studied the cases, read them through, and made a decision, I’m at peace with it,” Williams said. “I do give a lot of thought to solutions to problems and making decision on claims. But when I go home from work, I go home. I try not to let the responsibilities weigh on me.”
Williams, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Belhaven College, has long been active in civic and governmental affairs.
He served as the first president of Mississippi World Trade Center, and is a former vice chairman of Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development, which works with the Mississippi Development Authority and other state agencies to bring new business to the state.
Earlier business experience included working as a vice president and assistant to the president of Stuart C. Irby Co. in Jackson.
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