A Push to Civil Courts
Mar 13, 2019


The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would allow certain injury claims to bypass the workers’ compensation and occupational diseases system and allow a claimant to bring a civil cause of action to circuit court. 



Currently, the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act (WC/OD Acts) both contain an exclusive remedy provision, which means injured workers cannot sue their employers for a work-related injury.  The exclusive remedy provision serves as a compromise between employer and employee.  Workers are compensated for their medical expenses and receive partial lost wages while they are unable to work, and employers don’t have to worry about lawsuits related to employee injuries.  The benefits provided under the WC/OD Acts are the sole remedy available to injured employees. 



Senate Bill 1596 would amend specific sections of the WC/OD Acts limiting recovery to not apply to injuries or death resulting from an occupational disease, such as mesothelioma.  Currently, the WC/OD Acts have finite periods for filing a claim – 25 years pursuant to the WC Act and three years as it relates to disablement and 25 years pursuant to the OD Act.  A claimant is barred from bringing a claim after these time frames.  This time-bar was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2015.



Alaska lawmakers introduced a bill (S.B. 76) that would repeal the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission and require all petitions for review or appeals of orders to be brought before the Alaska Superior Court.  Established in 2005, the number of cases handled by the commission has dropped 60 percent, and the bill would save a budget-crunched state money. 



The House will hold a hearing on the bill today.  Opponents of the bill have stated it disrupts the very delicate balance in the workers’ compensation system and essentially creates unlimited liability in the state’s civil court system.  This one might have a quick turnaround – we’ll keep watching.


Overtime Pay Expansion


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a proposal to extend mandatory overtime pay to 1 million more workers.  Currently, salaried workers are automatically entitled to overtime pay only if they earn less than $23,660 a year, a figure set in 2004.  The new proposal would raise the threshold to $35,308.  The Labor Department is asking for comments on its proposed overtime threshold, as well as whether it should be periodically increased to reflect for inflation. 



The Obama administration’s overtime rule mandated overtime pay to those earning less than $47,476 annually with yearly increases for inflation.  This would have extended overtime eligibility to 4.2 million workers.  However, that rule was blocked by a Federal Texas judge from taking effect in 2016 saying Obama’s DOL exceeded its authority the way it wrote the rule.


Making Our Way Around the Country


The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that a labor appeals board was wrong to determine that workers’ compensation insurance can’t reimburse an employee for the cost of medical marijuana.  The court found that a carrier is not barred from reimbursing medical marijuana to a qualified claimant under the state’s medical marijuana law.  The court sent the case back to the board for further consideration and clarification regarding the criminal issue under federal law.  New Hampshire lawmakers have made legalizing recreational marijuana a priority and House lawmakers gave preliminary approval last month.  We’ll keep watching how this case pans out.



A bill that would cap damages in lawsuits passed its first House Committee.  House Bill 17 would prevent juries from awarding plaintiffs more than $1 million for “pain and suffering” in lawsuits, a move that could affect anyone killed or injured by a company or product.  The Florida Supreme Court has consistently struck down caps on how much a person who is injured through others’ negligence can receive for their pain and suffering.  However, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed three new conservative judges that are giving lawmakers reason to hope that this bill will stand up if challenged.  



This weekend, the nation will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a day that we are all considered Irish (wink).  Be careful as you celebrate as 38% of the drivers killed in crashes on St. Patrick’s Day had a blood alcohol level greater than .08, and three-quarters of those were at least double that.  Oh, and don’t forget Selection Sunday is this weekend too.  Get those March Madness brackets ready.  I’m rooting for my Wildcats to get in – good luck this week in the Big Ten tournament.



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