THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Latest Changes to the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law
By Ann Dalton, Esq.*
On July 10, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed new legislation that changes several provisions of the current Workers’ Compensation law. The new law becomes effective on January 1, 2014. Several of the changes are remedial in nature, following the 2005 workers’ compensation “deform”. The new law is a “mixed bag” of changes for injured workers in Missouri – some good, some bad and some ugly.
The new act defines a new type of claim for “occupational diseases due to toxic exposure” which is limited to asbestosis, berylliosis, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, brochiolitis, obliterans, solicosis, silicotuberculosis, manganism, acute myelogenous leukemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, and mesothelioma.
This new type of claim creates an expanded benefit for asbestosis, berylliosis, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, brochiolitis, obliterans, solicosis, silicotuberculosis, manganism, acute myelogenous leukemia, and myelodysplastic syndrome equal to 200% of the State’s average weekly wage for 100 weeks to be paid by the employer.
For mesothelioma cases, an additional amount equal to 300% of the state’s average weekly wage for 212 weeks shall be paid by employers and employer pools that insure for mesothelioma liability. Employers who do not elect to insure for mesothelioma liability can be sued in civil court.
After these expanded toxic exposure benefits are exhausted, the employee is entitled to permanent total disability benefits. If death results from the toxic exposure, such payments shall be provided to the employee’s spouse or children or to the employee’s estate if no spouse or children exist.
The legislation also recognizes work-related psychological stress of law enforcement as an occupational disease. The law already recognizes work-related psychological stress of firefighters as an occupational disease.
In addition, the Second Injury Fund’s financial instability will be fixed by the new law by establishing a temporary increase to a surcharge on Missouri employers/insurers, raising it from 3% to 6% until December 31, 2021. Workers who have been waiting years for payment of permanent partial and/or permanent total disability benefits can now see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Following the 2005 changes in the workers’ compensation statute, employees began filing civil lawsuits for classic occupational diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow, just to name a few. The new legislation places these occupational diseases back under the exclusive remedy of the workers’ compensation system, but the burden of proving that these diseases are work-related is unchanged. Work still must be “the prevailing factor” in the cause of and disability from the disease.
In addition, the Second Injury Fund will have the right to have the employee examined if the employer has not done so;
And, injured workers will no longer be able to file a claim against the Second Injury Fund if they have opted to pursue benefits under another state’s workers’ compensation law.
The Second Injury Fund will no longer compensate injured workers in cases where a pre-existing partial disability combines with a work injury to create a greater overall disability. And, permanent total disability claims will be restricted to cases where there is documented preexisting permanent disability that was caused by active military duty and/or a preexisting permanent partial disability of at least 50 weeks.
Although the 2014 changes provide some improvements to the protection of injured workers’ in Missouri, the workers’ compensation statute continues to be limited and complicated. It is imperative that workers are aware of the benefits and know their rights under the law. For free information and consultation, please do not hesitate to call.
Ann Dalton is a partner at Hammond & Shinners, P.C. where she specializes in the areas of workers’ compensation and social security disability, representing individuals in Missouri and Illinois. She can be reached at 314-727-1015 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm’s website can be viewed at www.hammondshinners.com.