Wyoming’s workers’ compensation law is changing — raising some benefits for the first time in 20 years.
The changes include higher benefits for the survivors of workers killed on the job and a cost-of-living adjustment for people getting personal disability benefits. Also, workers will continue to get wage benefits during contested cases.
The changes came after more than two years of testimony and public complaints that the Wyoming system was designed to deter injured workers from seeking benefits. Many workers testified that Wyoming’s workers’ compensation program worked well for minor injuries and short-term recoveries, but was less helpful to those with serious, long-term cases.
“We fixed the worst of the problems when we fixed the death benefit. That was probably the most important piece,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who chairs the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.
Cheyenne-based attorney George Santini said the changes are a step in the right direction, but said serious inequities still need to be addressed. For instance, the workload per case worker at Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division still exceeds the national average, he said.
Lawmakers rejected other proposed reforms during the 2009 legislative session. A bill to extend benefits to sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder failed, as did bills to extend employer immunity to co-workers. Another measure that failed would have clarified that operators are liable for their own negligence that injures or kills a third-party contractor.
Wyoming has the worst workplace fatality rate in the nation. A task force formed by the Legislature this year is looking into the problem.
Employers who pay into the state workers’ compensation fund are immune from lawsuits by employees, even in cases when the employer is proven to be grossly negligent. That means injured workers, in most cases, have only the state program to rely on for compensation for workplace injuries and lost ability to earn an income.
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