As the US Supreme Court Makes It Easier for Texas Polluters, New Study Finds Increased Cancer Rates Around Ship Channel
Today, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that sided with the State of Texas in attacking the EPA's ability to place limits on the amounts of mercury, acids, and other toxins may be released from industrial giants. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, held that the EPA must consider the cost of compliance before deciding whether regulation is appropriate. The ruling is considered a major victory for polluters.
Almost contemporaneously with the Supreme Court's decision is this study which has found higher than normal cancer rates in eastern Harris County, i.e., the area around the refineries and other industries that make up the Houston Ship Channel. While the study doesn't correlate the polluters to the causes of cancer, it is significant.
This is all very important for workers compensation because in recent years the Texas Supreme Court has made it difficult, if not impossible, to prove in workers compensation proceedings that an occupational disease like cancer is work related. Thanks to the US Supreme Court, polluters have the green light to go on polluting. Hopefully researchers will put more effort into these studies which show higher incidences of cancer in the areas of pollution. These neighborhoods are filled with the workers of these plants. If they can't get justice before the Division of Workers' Compensation, hopefully justice will come from somewhere. I grew up near there. I have two aunts who live there. Incidentally, both have had cancer.
Two things happened this week to raise the consciousness of the public towards the inadequacies of workers compensation. First was a major piece of reporting by Pro Publica and NPR that conducted an exhaustive examination of workers compensation benefits, state by state. You can find the articles here:
The reporters chief findings:
- Since 2003, legislators in 33 states have passed workers’ comp laws that reduce benefits or make it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for them.
- Where a worker gets hurt matters. Because each state has developed its own system, an amputated arm can literally be worth two or three times as much on one side of a state line than the other.
- Many states, Texas among them, have not only shrunk the payments to injured workers, they’ve also cut them off after an arbitrary time limit — even if workers haven’t recovered.
- Employers and insurers increasingly control medical decisions, such as whether an injured worker needs surgery.
As a workers compensation attorney who has been practicing since before 2003, I can attest that changes made to Texas' system that occurred after 2003 were the second such effort to reduce workers compensation benefits and make them more difficult to obtain.
Even though other states made changes to their workers' compensation schemes in part due to the success Texas has had reducing benefits, most of those states still did not take the more extreme path of reducing benefits to injured workers to the levels that Texas has done. This graphic is illustrative:
Those of us representing injured workers have complained for a long time that there is a race to the bottom amongst the states in what is being paid to injured workers. That race is on the verge of breaking the system. The only question is will Republicans in safely gerrymandered districts have the courage to fix the system before it breaks?
The second thing to raise some consciousness was a report put out by OSHA which can be found here:
That report states another aspect of workers compensation law that has long been complained about by those of us who represent injured workers:
The costs of workplace injuries are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported components of the social safety net. Changes in state based workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the full benefits (including adequate wage replacement payments and coverage for medical expenses) to which they are entitled. Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20%) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation. This cost-shift has forced injured workers, their families and taxpayers to subsidize the vast majority of the lost income and medical care costs generated by these conditions.
That is, the public, not the workers' compensation insurer and not the business that purchases the insurance, bears the primary burden for the costs of injured workers. This occurs through the cost-shifting of workers onto other forms of payment.
I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have heard adjusters state that a workers isn't being disenfranchised because the worker can just apply for social security disability. Likewise, we frequently have problems on cases with doctors advising injured workers to just put their injury on medicaid so that the doctor can avoid all the pre-authorization hassles that comes with workers compensation.
One problem is the race to the bottom that impacts all injured workers. The public's attitude is "As long as it doesn't affect me, I don't care. Out of sight, out of mind." But this report confirms that it does affect the public. When the system finally breaks, remember that.
In 1991, Texas employers sought policy writers to create polices covering employees injured on the job. To fuel this need, the Texas legislature created the Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund, the largest writer of workers’ compensation insurance. In 2001, the state changed the fund's name to Texas Mutual Insurance Company (TMIC) but maintained the same goal: to stabilize the state’s workers’ compensation system. Since its creation, TMIC has accomplished just that, consuming 40% of Texas’s workers’ compensation insurance market. Today, TMIC insures over 60,000 employers and their 1.4 million employees. Despite its success, TMIC recently announced its desire to cut ties with the state. The purpose of this blog is to explain some of the pros and cons associated with converting the state fund into a private company.Continue Reading...
On October 20, 2014, Texas's Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) announced final disciplinary actions against insurance carriers, health care providers, and employers for violating the state's workers' compensation laws. Division of Workers' Compensation Announces Recent Enforcement Action, Tex. Dep’t Ins. (Oct. 20, 2014), available at http://www.tdi.texas.gov/news/2014/dwc---10---20.html.
Since January 1, 2014, administrative penalties for these violations total $1,774,345, including $1,658,245 against insurance carriers, $65,600 against health care providers, and $1,000 against employers.Continue Reading...
Access the NY Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/10/us/injury-statistics-by-race-go-uncollected.html?_r=0
According to a recent study performed by Associated Press, traffic fatalities in drilling states, including Texas, have more than quadrupled since 2004. But wait . . . hasn’t the energy boom positively impacted our country? The increased production of oil and natural gas creates job, lifts local economies, and attracts manufacturers to the United States. However, our nation’s booming economy comes with a price—a spike in traffic facilities. Large trucks and heaving drilling equipment consume the streets of Texas drilling counties, increasing traffic fatalities by 18%.
Workers’ compensation fraud occurs when individuals intentionally make false representations to obtain or to deny workers’ comp benefits, which reimburse employees injured on the job.
Individuals committing workers’ comp fraud carry many faces—employees, employers, and healthcare providers all qualify as potential violators. Employees become violators when seeking benefits by misrepresenting their injuries, employment status, or treatment. Alternatively, employers commit workers comp fraud not to receive benefits, but to avoid responsibility. Employers often seek to avoid responsibility by underreporting employee payrolls and avoiding premiums. Last, health care providers, such as doctors, counselors, and pharmacists, become violators by duplicating bills, billing patients for improper services, and receiving payments from multiple insurance carriers for the same treatment.
2012’s Top 10 Cases
In 2012, the top ten workers’ comp fraud cases cost America $97,446,500. Below is a short description of each case and its damages:Continue Reading...
Workers’ compensation is a state-regulated insurance program that pays medical expenses and lost wages of employees who are injured at work or suffer from work-related illnesses. Workers’ compensation cases are treated on a case-by-case basis, which means that employees are treated differently based on the nature and severity of their injuries.
In Texas, the agency responsible for regulating the state’s workers’ compensation system is the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). Within the TDI exists a smaller division, which carries the sole responsibility of processing and monitoring workers’ compensation claims, called the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC).Continue Reading...
A work-related accident can result in a lifelong injury. It can also leave you drowning in medical bills, lost income, and uncertainty about your future. Injured employees facing this situation are not alone—workers’ compensation attorneys will answer your questions and fight to obtain the benefits you deserve.Continue Reading...
On average, a Texas worker is 12 percent more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same job elsewhere, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal data. That translates to about 580 excess workplace deaths over a decade. Construction has contributed mightily to Texas’ booming economy. And the state’s construction sites are 22 percent deadlier than the national average. Government and industry here have invested relatively little in safety equipment, training and inspections, researchers say. And Texas is one of the toughest places to organize unions, which can promote safety.
President Obama has recently issued an executive order that is being hailed as "the most important workers' rights reform of the last 20 years." Additionally, it is a beginning step at curbing the abuses of arbitration clauses. We still have a long way to go in this country, but these steps create ripples...
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In a previous post, I gave an overview of the problem with the state of the intoxication defense in workers' compensation law in Texas--that it prevents people from recovery, even when their injury had nothing to do with testing positive for drugs. Again, I want to stress that everyone wants to maintain a drug free workplace. I have lost two family members in incidents caused by a drunk driver -- a cousin and an uncle -- in separate events. So, I tend to take a hard view towards injuries caused by intoxication. But that doesn't mean I think insurance carriers should be excused from covering injuries that they have legally contracted to cover.
Currently, the Division of Workers' Compensation takes the position that the rebuttable presumption shifts the burden of proof in a workers compensation case. This is contrary to the law of rebuttable presumptions found in virtually every other legal context. In fact, it is contrary to the law as set forth by the Texas Supreme Court.Continue Reading...