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Matt Devoti
Matt Devoti
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The Erosion of Workers’ Compensation


Most Americans think of Labor Day as a reason to relax and enjoy the last official weekend of summer. Did you know that Labor Day was created as a way to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American worker? The holiday was born out of Industrialization and championed by the labor and trade unions as a way of honoring the hardworking people who literally built our great nation. It became an official holiday in 1894 when Congress passed an act declaring the first Monday in September Labor Day.

Labor Day today is celebrated much differently than it was 100-plus years ago. Likewise, the American workforce landscape has changed dramatically in that time. Many things have improved greatly over the last century – better working conditions, better safety regulations, better benefits, equal opportunities – just to name a few. But Workers’ Compensation is one area where workers’ rights have slowly deteriorated over time.

Workers’ Compensation was a compromise – workers’, if injured on the job, would give up their right to sue their employer. In return, the employer would agree to pay any medical bills made necessary by the injury and the employee’s wages until they could return to work. But in the 1990s, citing overblown premiums and out of control costs, large corporations and insurance companies began to lobby state law makers to change Workers’ Compensation laws.   Wanting to stay competitive and attract new businesses, state after state has passed Workers’ Compensation “reforms” drastically cutting benefits to workers injured on the job.

When hardworking individuals are injured on the job today, they face an uphill battle to get compensated for medical expenses or paid leave. Many are forced to use Social Security Disability, Medicare, and Medicaid for lost wages and medical expenses not covered by Workers’ Compensation insurance. Many workers simply go without medical care and disability pay. These “reforms” are not only hurting the blue-collar worker the original laws were designed to protect, but are also costing tax payers billions of dollars every year.

In March 2015, NPR published a special series on the erosion of Worker’s Compensation benefits. The article highlights the growing problem and offers real-life examples of hard working Americans who suffered a workplace injury and, years later, continue to suffer because of these “reforms”.

As personal injury attorneys, we see people every day who are injured on the job and continue to battle just like the people cited in the article. The Workers’ Compensation system is complex and benefits vary greatly by state. An experienced personal injury attorney can help navigate the ever-changing laws that regulate Workers’ Compensation benefits.

Matthew J. Devoti is a Partner at Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm.  This post originally appeared in October 2015 on The Legal Examiner blog.

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