As an attorney practicing in the field of Workers’ Compensation for more than 25 years, I have represented thousands of injured workers. My job as their advocate has been extremely rewarding. Most of my clients are honest, hardworking people who got up one day, went to work, and suffered an unforeseen accident. Not every case was easy, but in the end, the injured worker would usually prevail in getting adequate wage replacement and prompt medical treatment because the system was reasonable and the fight was fair.
Unfortunately, the last 10 years have not been kind to injured workers. I have seen a shift in attitude in some of my clients. Many feel the need to explain that they are truly hurt as if there was any doubt in my mind. I realized that this was happening as a result of the propaganda perpetrated against the injured – that somehow they were faking their accident, or didn’t really deserve the benefits they were receiving. It dawned on me that this attitude has been influenced by a large-budget marketing strategy aimed at making the general public believe that those who get hurt are perpetrating a fraud against the system or filing frivolous lawsuits in order to obtain benefits they don’t deserve.
Big business has made the injured worker the scapegoat for the failing economy and the cost of doing business not only in New York but across the country. In fact, Governor Cuomo even seems committed to the Pro-Business Agenda to reduce costs and increase profits. A couple of weeks ago I outlined the Governor’s budget proposals that were not a part of his public address, as well as the Business Council’s wish list that would ensure cost savings at the expense of the injured worker. Some of these proposals included a reduction in the amount of wage replacement injured workers receive, as well as a limit on their medical treatment and choice of treating doctor. It also would limit worker access to the Workers’ Compensation system by limiting – or even eliminating – hearings before a judge, or giving the Board the ability to handpick judges to listen to certain types of cases. These limitations are designed to “save money” at the expense of the injured worker. The Governor has said that one of his motivations for adding these “reforms” to the budget was based on increasing costs to employers. The Business Council has lobbied for changes saying that costs to employers have gone up, not down. However, this directly contradicts Governor Cuomo’s statement in 2014 announcing that the 2013 Business Relief Act had cut Workers’ Compensation employer costs by 30%.
The line in the sand has been drawn. The average worker in this country works paycheck to paycheck and does not have the funds for a big budget marketing strategy to counter this position. However, as a result of the attacks on workers in this state, a number of groups have indicated their opposition to the Business Council’s proposals. The New York Workers Compensation Alliance points out that after the 2007 reforms, Workers’ Compensation has replaced less than 10% of the lost wages of permanently disabled workers, and the current proposals made by the Business Council would render Workers’ Compensation virtually meaningless as a source of wage replacement benefits.
The New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH) slammed the Business Council for putting profits over safety. The NYS AFL-CIO is opposed to the changes noting that they would “alter the system to such an extent that many injured workers could never expect to maintain a decent standard of living”. Let your voice be heard. Call your State Legislators. Let them know while no one goes to work expecting to be injured, it can happen to any of us at anytime and everyone deserves to be treated fairly.
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 a past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, 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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