When someone is injured at their workplace, their on the job injury is covered by an established workers’ compensation program. Usually, this is something overseen by the state government. Indiana and Illinois, for example, both have state-wide workers’ compensation for state workers established by state statutes.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
Under state workers’ compensation laws, employers have a legal duty to make sure that their employees are safe when working on the job and as part of that protection, in the event of an on-the-job injury, employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
This is a special kind of insurance, and it’s different than the standard accident injury coverage that applies to personal injuries like car crashes or premises liability claims like slip and falls at the shopping mall.
Under Workers’ Compensation in Indiana and Illinois, an injured worker will get coverage for their medical care as well as cash payments for a percentage of the income that they are not able to earn on the job due to the injury. However, key here is that under this program the employers are protected from personal injury lawsuits by those workers who have been hurt on the job. The worker cannot sue the employer for negligence as a general rule under this plan.
So, if a Hoosier is injured on the weekend in a car crash driving his own SUV, then his injury claim proceeds under standard Indiana injury law. He can generally file a lawsuit against any at fault party. If a Hoosier is injured in a car crash while on the job, say on his way to a district sales meeting, then the workers’ compensation program applies to his accident. He cannot file a negligence lawsuit against his employer unless he can jump certain legal hurdles.
Federal Workers’ Compensation in Specific Kinds of Work
There are some federal workers’ compensation programs where the federal government protects the worker, not the state, if the work is in a specific industry. For instance, if your work involves the Great Lakes’ shipyards, then federal coverage (not state) may apply to your accident if you are hurt at work. Another example are those working in coal mines in our part of the country: miners also have special coverage for on the job injuries under federal law.
1. Longshoremen and Maritime Workers Hurt While Working
For instance, the Longshoremen and Maritime Workers in Indiana and Illinois are covered for work injuries by federal law, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (”LHWCA”). Here, as described by the Department of Labor, from the Act:
LHWCA provides compensation and medical care to employees disabled from injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States or in adjoining areas used in loading, unloading, repairing or building a vessel. Survivor benefits also are provided if the work-related injury causes the employee’s death.
2. Coal Miners Hurt On the Job
Kentucky may be famous for its coal mines, but Indiana and Illinois have plenty of workers who are coal miners, too. The Black Lung Benefits Act (”BLBA”) provides special coverage to coal miners who suffer from black lung disease (pneumoconiosis).
Here, federal workers’ compensation pays monthly cash payments and covers medical expenses to those coal miners with black lung disease and it also provides death benefits to the deceased miner’s survivors.
Federal Oversight of State Workers’ Compensation Programs
Right now, state workers’ compensation programs operate independently of the federal government. They are established under state law. There is no federal agent that reviews or oversees the Indiana program or what Illinois does in its workers’ compensation system. It’s a question of jurisdiction: the federal government doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do this.
Last week, in Congress, there was a movement to change this and have the Department of Labor set up as a federal double-checker of what is going on in the state workers’ compensation programs.
Read the letter from Congress to the DOL here. From the letter:
“… since 2003 legislators in 33 states have enacted changes to workers’ compensation laws that either reduce benefits or make it more difficult for workers to qualify for them. Today, only 7 states follow at least 15 of the Commission’s 19 recommendations and 4 states comply with less than half of them.”
This was in response to a joint expose by the ProPublica website and NPR (National Public Radio), which went into the injustices being experienced by workers today in states with opt-out programs (like Texas) and other states where workers’ compensation benefits have been cut back.
The report points to things like Illinois setting up fee schedules for medical payments that will only pay doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers up to the set cap in the fee payment schedule. If the doctor wants to charge over that amount for his service, then he either writes that off for the patient with workers’ compensation coverage or he decides not to take patients who have been hurt on the job and are covered by the Illinois workers’ compensation plan.
This report was then supplemented with the October 2015 report, “Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.“ (Click the link to read the full report.)
Here, NPR and ProPublica explain that the big corporations that are leaders in most American industries — retail, trucking, food, etc. — are finding ways to get around the expensive policy premiums of the state workers’ compensation plans. It has already been accomplished in some states, like Texas, Tennesssee, and Oklahoma.
These huge national corporations are finding ways to get new laws passed that allow them to circumvent longstanding, traditional protections of workers hurt on the job. It’s a trend that is expected to continue through to other states, including Indiana and Illinois and our surrounding states.
As an example, Illinois has seen several laws passed that cut away at the state’s workers’ compensation programs. Read the ChicagoBusiness article, “Illinois workers’ comp costs fall below Indiana, Wisconsin,“ for details as well as our earlier post.
OSHA Report Confirms Media Expose
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did its own independent analysis of the current workers’ compensation system in this country, and the OSHA report was released with similar findings.
Among its findings: OSHA discovered that workers’ compensation pays on the average only 20% of the overall cost of on the job accident injuries.
Read our next post for details on what an injured worker in Indiana or Illinois can do here ….
If you are injured on the job and suffered a work injury, then you may be told by your employer that you must file with their workers’ compensation plan and that you have no legal options available to you. This may not be accurate in your situation, and you and your loved ones deserve to investigate your legal rights under state and federal law.
Be careful out there!