Missouri Closes Workers Compensation Loophole: Protecting Co-Workers from Lawsuits

[tweetmeme] The Missouri Senate passed legislation recently that would effectively close a major loophole in Missouri Workers Compensation laws.   The following the Missouri chamber of Commerce’s press release detailing the legislation.

Missouri Chamber pleased with passage of workers’ compensation reform that protects Missouri workers

Yesterday, the Missouri Senate passed legislation, House Bill 1540, on a unanimous vote and was adopted by the House with a vote of 122-29.  The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tim Jones specifies that an employee subject to workers’ compensation provisions must be released from all liability for personal injury or death to a co-employee due to an accident or occupational disease.

Following reforms to the workers’ compensation system in 2005, the courts began interpreting the law in such a way that co-workers were no longer protected as the exclusive remedy for workplace accidents.  Already, millions of dollars in lawsuits and settlements have been paid out as more and more trial attorneys find ways to leverage this loophole.

This comes at a crucial time as the Missouri Chamber has heard reports of trial attorneys using the loophole to go after the personal assets of co-workers of employees who were killed at a Joplin business during last year’s tornado.

“Every possession that these individuals own that wasn’t taken by the tornado is now at risk due to a flaw in the law that trial attorneys are using to get rich,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO.  “We are getting pleas from businesses that are being bankrupted by a rash of co-employee lawsuits, but reports of this flaw and the tornado being used to line the pockets of lawyers on the backs of innocent workers reaches an all-new low,” Mehan said.

“Workers’ compensation served as the exclusive remedy for co-employees for decades until the changes to the law in 2005,” Rich AuBuchon, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.  “This loophole puts Missouri workers in the crosshairs of trial attorneys seeking big payouts for a cause of action that was not intended to exist.  No employee should be forced to worry about losing their home to a lawsuit based on an unintentional workplace accident.  The passage of this legislation will protect employees and employers throughout Missouri.”

The passage of this legislation was extremely difficult.  Despite this success other critical issues impacting our workers’ compensation system remain including a loophole that allows employees to sue in court for compensation of occupational disease in addition to receiving workers compensation benefits.  Also, Missouri’s insolvent Second Injury Fund remains unresolved.  The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry will continue to work on these issues but with only three days left in the 2012 Legislative Session the issues remaining may not be resolved this year.

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