As an attorney who has been practicing in the field of Workers’ Compensation for more than 25 years, I have seen many changes in this area of law. When I first started as a young attorney, my mentor explained to me that the Workers’ Compensation law was designed to compensate injured workers for their lost wages and provide them with prompt medical treatment.
Injured workers may not be compensated commensurate to their salary, but the law provided a safety net for them while they were unable to work, and a lifetime benefit if their injuries prevented them from obtaining gainful employment. I knew that insurance carriers understood their role was to provide indemnity and medical benefits while mitigating costs to their assured. The Workers’ Compensation Board employed judges and commissioners to make sure that injured workers received fair and impartial oversight of their claims. Unfortunately, the Workers’ Compensation system in New York has now become a bargaining chip in Albany politics. Governor Cuomo has long been courting businesses to New York. Many of the state’s ad campaigns are geared toward showing how favorable the climate can be for doing business here. In 2011, Cuomo announced that he launched “New York Open for Business,” which was designed to demonstrate to business leaders all across the world the benefits of doing business in New York. He pitched the idea of redesigning the way state government works in order to drive economic growth and create jobs so that not only will businesses come to New York, they will stay in New York.
This seemed like a great idea, especially when you saw the slick advertising campaign costing more than $140 million. What could be wrong with New York being more attractive to business and industry as this would translate into more jobs and more money to the state? Unfortunately, the Business Counsel has complained to Governor Cuomo that the cost of Workers’ Compensation is too high despite major reforms in 2007 and is now lobbying to make additional reforms more favorable to business interests. A study performed by the Workers’ Compensation Alliance, as well as New York Committee for Occupational Safety (NYCOSH), concluded that the 2007 reforms offered no benefit to low-wage workers and even those who did benefit short-term on the increase continued to suffer high rates of wage loss. It is clear the reforms benefited business interests over labor concerns. Even the administration that was designed to oversee the system, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, has now created many roadblocks for the injured worker to navigate.
Earlier this year, the Board issued a policy advising that it no longer will be issuing administrative decisions for claims having no lost time and no disputes. The Board notes that approximately 25% of the decisions issued by them are for no lost-time claims. Workers who sustain a permanent injury but don’t lose any time from work are entitled by law to receive a monetary award for their injury.
Those represented by experienced counsel are guaranteed that their case will handled properly and maximum benefits are obtained. For those unrepresented injured workers, their fate remains cloudy. In the past, the Board used to schedule hearings before a law judge who would give them adequate information about their claim, their rights, and their benefits. Many take the position that the Workers’ Compensation Board has been directed to make the system more user friendly to business interests by reducing the number of hearings and decisions that are issued, which might result in a reduction in the number of claims paid. Unfortunately, this is all at the expense of the injured worker at a time when they are most vulnerable. If you think this is wrong, let your voice be heard by contacting the Governor and your state representatives.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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