State news notes: WY, TN, OR, NY, OH

February 20th, 2007 by Julie Ferguson

Wyoming – In an extraordinary case, Les Butts, a coal miner with permanent spinal cord injuries, was recently awarded $9.46 million for the injuries he sustained while working on the job, and two of his managers – not his employer – are being held responsible for failing to provide a safe environment. While workers compensation is generally the exclusive remedy for any work-related injuries, several states allow some exceptions in cases of egregious disregard for safety or intentional misconduct. Wyoming is a state that has no such provisions – the rule of exclusivity is apparently ironclad. So while the original award recommended by the jury was for $22 million, the law holds that Thunder Basin Mine, the employer, is immune from any damages. However, that immunity does not extend to managers, so 18 percent of the blame was apportioned to the mine manager and 25 percent of the blame was apportioned to the safety manager, totaling $9.46 million. Apparently, a bill to extend immunity to managers and co-workers has been under recent scrutiny, but no action has been taken.
Tennessee – workers comp reforms enacted in 2004 have resulted in increased fines for employers and insurers for transgressions such as late claim report filing or late payment of benefits. “For fiscal year 2004-05, the penalty program received 120 referrals resulting in 50 penalties totaling approximately $63,600 in fines. For fiscal year 2005-06 the program received 260 referrals resulting in 100 penalties totaling approximately $149,400 in fines.”
Oregon – The state’s Senate Committee on Commerce approved a bill that would ensure workers comp coverage for seasonal and migrant farmworkers. Under the law, contractors would be required to provide proof of workers’ comp coverage in the form of a corporate surety bond before they could obtain or renew a license to operate in Oregon. The new law would put some teeth in enforcement efforts – the current law requires that farmworkers be covered bust requires no proof.
New York – more oversight is needed to prevent premium fraud, according to two recent studies. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, underpayments could be as high as $500 million to $1 billion a year, and according to Risk-Metrics Corp., underpayment might be as pervasive as involving between 25 percent and 30 percent of companies in New York. The issue of premium fraud in NY should come as no surprise to regular readers of Workers Comp Insider.
Ohio – Corruption probes in Ohio’s workers’ comp scandals continue apace. The Toledo Blade now reports that investigators have turned their attention to managed care companies for potential kickbacks and fraud. To date, ” … the task force has charged 15 public officials or money managers, resulting in 12 convictions.”