Agricultural Injuries Account for 5.5% of Calif. Workers’ Comp Claims

January 28, 2010

Agricultural claims cost the California workers’ compensation system $1.46 billion in loss payments, according to a recent “Industry Scorecard.

According to the Scorecard, which provides data on accident year (AY) 2000 to 2008 claims experience among agriculture workers in California, for the eight-year span ending in 2008, agriculture workers accounted for 5.5 percent of all California job injury claims, and 5.9 percent of the state’s workers’ compensation benefit payments. The report noted, however, that with the recent job losses in other employment sectors, those proportions have been growing, with the most recent data showing agriculture claims up to 7.7 percent of accident year 2008, claims and 7.8 percent of the payments.

The three most common injury categories for agricultural workers are:

  • Medical back problems without spinal cord involvement (typically sprains and strains, which comprise nearly 21 percent of the claims but more than 30 percent of the paid losses in this sector);
  • Minor wounds and injuries to the skin (20 percent of the claims, but only 2.8 percent of the payments); and
  • Shoulder, arm, knee and lower leg sprains (10.8 percent of the claims, 8.4 percent of the losses).

Data from the pre-reform period of accident year 2000-2003 shows nearly 42 percent of the agriculture claims resulted in lost-time, and these claims accounted for about 96 percent of loss payments in the sector. Post workers’ comp-reform data from a less developed subset of claims from accident year 2004-2006 showed about 36 percent resulted in lost time, but these claims still accounted for almost 93 percent of total losses in the sector.

The average amount paid on an agriculture claim did decline briefly following enactment of SB 899, although paid loss data for accident year 2006 and accident year 2007 show the average amounts paid at 12 and 24 months are again on the rise. For example, average first-year payments on a lost-time claim in the agriculture sector bottomed out at $8,851 ($5,132 medical + $3,719 indemnity) in accident year 2005, but by accident year 2007, the average had jumped more than 35 percent to $11,982 ($7,790 + $4,192).

The Scorecard was published by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute and is based on an analysis of nearly 133,000 work injury claims filed by workers in the state’s agriculture sector, a fairly diverse employment group that encompasses everything from poultry raising to landscape gardening. Aggregate loss payments on these claims totaled more than $1.46 billion.

The scorecard also includes a profile of agriculture claimants, claim distributions based on claimant job classification and county of residence, nature and cause of injury, primary diagnosis, and employer premium size. Claim closure rates at 12, 24 and 36 months post-injury also are provided by accident year for all claims and for lost-time claims. Pre- and post-reform claim and payment distributions by type of claim (med-only, temporary disability, permanent disability, and death) are shown, as are pre- and post-reform attorney involvement rates for permanent disability claims, with comparative distributions shown for all California work injury claims.

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