For the last five years, lawyers practicing in the field of Workers’ Compensation have used their voices to educate our State Senators and Assembly members on issues impacting injured workers. In keeping with this strategy, last week I attended Lobby Day in Albany with 70 other colleagues, including 11 members from my law firm, and we met with more than 50 of our state leaders. There was an added sense of urgency this time as Governor Cuomo has proposed a number of changes in the budget that would adversely affect those who get injured on the job.
In past few weeks, I have written about these budget proposals as part of the continuing attacks on injured workers and the less-than-adequate benefits they currently receive. The proposed budget amendment would grossly and negatively impact the ability of an injured worker to get a full and fair settlement. The law currently directs the insurance carrier to deposit the present value of a settlement into a fund to ensure that this money is available in the future or in the alternative, to settle the claim with the injured worker. Many insurance carriers opt to pay the money to the injured worker instead of depositing it into a fund. Without the worry of this deposit, there is less of an incentive for the insurance company to settle a claim that could lead to lengthy and time-consuming litigation with the injured worker receiving minimal or no benefits until the law judge makes a decision.
One of the proposed measures would give the Workers’ Compensation Board the power to qualify doctors and to bar them from the system. This is unacceptable. Doctors should be regulated by other doctors instead of by bureaucrats.
Even more egregious are the attacks and restrictions on due process. Injured workers should be entitled to a fair and impartial hearing. The budget proposals would remove the right of injured workers to have their cases heard by the same judge. The ability to direct policy and decisions would open the door to potential abuse. Additionally, if injured workers wish to appeal a detrimental decision, the appeal would be decided by one individual as opposed to the current three-panel of commissioners. Current law provides for the appointment of commissioners by the governor with approval by the legislature, which provides for some checks and balances. The Workers’ Compensation Board would instead be given unchecked power to control the outcome of every decision.
The Business Counsel was in favor of many of these changes as it felt they would help decrease costs and increase profit margin. However, an analysis by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board (NYCIRB) of the expected financial impacts of the governor’s proposed reforms found no solid evidence that these changes would result in any meaningful cost savings. At this juncture, one has to wonder why these proposed changes are still being pursued by the governor. Anyone who has been injured on the job, or knows someone who has been injured, knows that it has become more and more difficult to navigate the process to obtain benefits. We do need reform, but it should be done to improve the lives of those injured at work. These proposals are certainly not in workers’ best interest. If you agree and want to know what you can do, please click here to sign the petition to stop the further erosion of workers’ compensation. We need to insure that those vulnerable members of our families, community, and state are not abandoned by their government for wrongly perceived cost- cutting measures.
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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