Friday, February 22, 2008

Working on Workers' Comp

Injured workers deserve fair, just compensation

We're been working with the AFL-CIO and the Wyoming Trial Lawyers' Association to raise awareness of problems with the state Workers' Compensation system.

We staged a forum in Casper last month and another in Cheyenne Wednesday night.

Here's the joint news release from the Cheyenne event.


For Immediate Release February 21, 2008
George Santini Dan Neal
Cheyenne Attorney Equality State Policy Center
307-632-8957 (307) 258-2783

Kim Floyd
(307) 635-2823



Workers, Labor Leaders, Trial Attorneys and Worker Advocates Demand Changes Needed to Better Protect Workers and their Families

(Cheyenne, February 21, 2008)—The State Workers’ Compensation law must be reformed to ensure that injured workers receive the benefits they need, especially after accidents that leave them permanently or temporarily totally disabled, a coalition of advocates for working families contend.

In a forum in Cheyenne Wednesday night, labor leaders, Wyoming workers and their families, trial attorneys and others heard injured workers such as Richard Johnson now of Grantsville, Utah outline a litany of abuses they’ve suffered at the hands of the Workers’ Compensation Division.

Johnson, who has had eight back surgeries since being injured on an oil drilling rig more than 20 years ago, said the division has made his life miserable. Among other complaints, Johnson noted the division has sent him letters informing him he is no longer considered disabled “because my wife can work. Get that — because my wife can work.”

Wednesday’s forum was the second in a series sponsored by the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, the Equality State Policy Center and the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association.

“The system seems able to deal with ordinary injuries but it is tougher on people who are disabled in a job accident,” stated Dan Neal, Executive Director of the Equality State Policy Center. “The system owes injured workers efficient access to medical care and should fairly compensate people who suffer temporary or permanent disability.”

Wyoming State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Kim noted that many injured workers experience delays in health benefit coverage, unfair examination of claims and long delays in treatment. “They often need legal assistance simply to negotiate a very difficult bureaucratic process,” he said.

“We’ve got to demand change,” Floyd told the group. Those changes must acknowledge that workers carry Wyoming’s boom-time economy on their backs and deserve just and fair compensation if they’re injured on the job.

Among the changes proposed by Floyd:

1. Revise the definition of permanent total and permanent partial disability to reflect actual work life expectancy.
2. Increase the maximum weekly benefit for permanent total disability to at least two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage.
3. Pay total disability benefits for the duration of the worker’s disability, or for life, without any limitations on dollar amount or time.
4. Restore the right to compensation for mental stress or trauma.
5. The 44-month limit on permanent partial impairment payments should be restored to at least the former 60-month limit with improved benefits.
6. Provide vocation rehabilitation designed to restore the employee to his or her per-injury earning capacity.

Jackson attorney Mel Orchard urged people to “take back their democracy” and demand that legislators provide just benefits to people injured while creating wealth for their employers and the state. Those especially concerned should consider running for office in the coming elections,” he said.

“As attorneys we work to ensure that deserving individuals have access to justice, even when taking on the most powerful interests. We often hear complaints about unfair treatment by Workers’ Comp and personally witness the inadequacy of the current system,” stated Larry Clapp, a Casper attorney who is President of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association.

“We want to work with legislators and other interested organizations to make sure the system works,” concluded Clapp.
Reporters: To obtain an interview with an injured worker like Richard Johnson, please contact the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association at 307-635-0820.