NEW BILL (HB 18) AFFECTING WORKERS' COMPENSATION INTRODUCED IN 2009 SESSION OF ALABAMA LEGISLATURE
In 1992, after many concessions from both trial lawyers and business interests, the Alabama Legislature passed the Workers' Compensation Reform Act of 1992. The goal was to reduce business costs, minimize future rate increases and deliver higher benefits to workers. Despite the passage of these broad sweeping changes, the Alabama Appellate Courts of the 90's interpreted the statutes liberally which effectually neutered them. The Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals are now comprised of a conservative majority and the law is finally being applied as the legislature originally intended.
Since the trial lawyers lost their liberal majority in the Appellate Courts, they are now focusing their efforts on changing the statutes themselves. In February 2008, four Senate Bills and one House Bill were introduced which, if passed, would have exponentially increased workers’ compensation abuse, cost, and litigation. Fortunately, none of the bills were passed.
The 2009 regular session of the Alabama Legislature opened February 3rd. One of the initial bills introduced was HB 18, sponsored by Joseph Mitchell (D) of Mobile. HB 18 would introduce two radical changes to workers’ compensation in Alabama. First, it would remove the $220 cap on weekly workers’ compensation benefits. Second, the bill would remove the limitation to the schedule of injuries. Specifically:
"Although the injury itself is to only one part or member of the body, if the effect of such injury extends to other parts of the body and produces a greater or more prolonged incapacity than that which naturally results from the specific injury, or if the injury causes an abnormal and unusual incapacity with respect to the member, then the employee is not limited in his or her recovery under the schedule for injury to the one member."
HB 18 is currently pending in the House Commerce Committee. Both Houses will meet on Tuesday, February 17th, for the fifth legislative day. In response to the introduction of this bill, business interests will likely make their disapproval known to those House members responsible for sponsoring the bill. Remember, you can contact your House and Senate members in Montgomery by calling the House operator at (334) 242-7600 or the Senate operator at (334) 242-7800, or writing to them via the State House Office Building, Montgomery, Alabama 36130. You can also visit the Legislature's official web site at http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/ACASLogin.asp.