Monday, April 4, 2016

Worker's Comp in Texas

Probably the bitterest pill I was required to suffer as a senator in the State of Texas was the dismantling of a decent worker's comp system.  Big business, with an army of lobbyists, ran over the workmen of Texas while alleging they were fighting greedy lawyers.  Lawyers have suffered little as a result of the so-called workers’ comp reform, but the same cannot be said for working Texans.  Even though Texas is a leader in the United States in injured and killed workers, Texas persists in refusing to address the problem of medical care and other benefits for working Texans.  Texas is one of the few states that does not require workers’ compensation insurance for the workers in this state.

This is one of the reasons I marvel at blue-collar workers who work with their hands and who, in great numbers, are voting Republican.  Republicans are the biggest advocates for and handmaidens of Big Business, which wants to save money at the expense of injured workers in our state.  Hardly a week goes by that I do not have a call at my law office where someone has been a victim of misconduct at the workplace.  Unfortunately, I have to tell them it is well nigh impossible to find a lawyer who will handle a worker’s on-the-job injury claim.  The Legislature, driven by the business lobby, has pretty successfully taken lawyers out of the equation.  The reason is that a lawyer finds it very difficult to earn a fee while representing an injured worker.  Only limited situations will allow a fee to be paid for a lawyer representing an injured worker.  In almost every instance, however, where there is a contested hearing, the employer/insurance company always has legal representation of a very able and skilled nature. 

While Texas does not require employers to furnish workers’ comp insurance, defenders of this situation quickly point out there are serious consequences and incentives for employers to provide workers’ compensation.  As an example, theoretically, when an employee is injured on the job where there is no worker compensation, the employer should not or may not use fellow servant negligence, assumption of risk or contributory negligence as a defense.  Unfortunately, too many Republican-appointed or elected judges are making a mockery out of these rules as, too often, they are allowing juries to be swayed by contributory negligence rules in the guise of other activities.

A recent article in one of our major newspapers in the business section pointed out that several large companies in Texas are boasting of saving millions of dollars by doing away with worker compensation insurance.  Unhappily, these plans seldom compensate injured or disabled workers to the full extent that the injured employee can maintain the necessities for his or her family.  Worse, there is no ground swell of working class Texans to demand addressing this serious problem for the Texas workforce because very few workers, particularly young healthy ones, ever believe they will be the victim of a disabling injury on their job.  It is only when tragedy strikes that the family raises a concern, but by then it is too late.  

I would hope that a simple sense of decency and fairness would cause a vast amount of Texas voters to demand better for people who work, earn a living and produce our goods and services that lead us to a better life in this state.

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