Montemaggi Law - Workers Compensation Attorneys

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25 Mar 2015

Thoughts on recent NPR/Propublica reporting on Workers' Compensation benefits

Posted by Paul J. Antonowicz

I wanted to add a few thoughts in addition to the NPR/Propublica articles I have been sharing. In 2007, New York State enacted a series of changes to the Workers' Compensation Law for some of the very reasons cited in the NPR/Propublica reports. Part of the justification of these changes was that New York was out of sync with other states and needed to be more competitive. However, there was a certain balance to the New York changes that benefited injured workers in some ways while cutting back benefits in others. The biggest part of the bargain was that maximum payment rates were greatly increased, the first increase in decades and were indexed to increase based upon statewide average wages, while permanent partial disability benefits were subjected to a cap except for the most severe disabilities. To me, this was not unreasonable. There are some problems, of course, but the bargain was not unreasonable in the abstract. However, the business community and insurance industry are trying to alter that bargain while not giving up the benefit they received on a number of fronts. The Business Council has launched an effort to try to reduce schedule loss of use awards (the awards given for loss of an arm, leg. etc.) claiming that these awards are "out of control". The NPR/Propublica report on loss of arms (projects.propublica.org/graphics/workers-compensation-benefits-by-limb) proves that New York's loss of use standards are not incredibly or overly generous. The maximum benefit in New York that a high-wage earning can receive currently for loss of use of an arm is $252,299. Reviewing the chart on Propublica shows this is quite in keeping with neighboring states.

I have also heard complaints that payment rates are going too high based upon the annual changes in maximum rates. All this while insurance rates have dramatically declined since implementation of the changes and insurance company profits increased. There appears to be no explanation for these attempts to further erode workers' benefits other than callous greed. It is important to point out that Workers' Compensation is not funded through tax dollars but by surcharges on businesses. So contrary to what many believe, tax dollars are not what pay for Workers' Compensation.