In 2004, in the face of ever increasing insurance premiums, the California passed extensive Workers’ Compensation reform. One of the targets of the reforms was to reduce permanent disability payments to workers who had been permanently injured at work.
The result of the reforms was that disability payments to injured workers were slashed by at least 50%, insurance premiums for employers dropped dramatically, and the insurance carriers reported their highest profits in 30 years. The losers were clearly injured employees.
Now, after vetoing proposed permanent disability payment increases the last 2 years, Governor Schwarzenegger now appears willing to increase benefits to injured workers by at least 16%.
Increased benefits are definitely needed. According to the political action group, Voters Injured at Work, Californians are being shortchanged:
According to one group, Voters Injured at Work, people who lose a foot get $28,820, compared with the national average of $80,976. A lost eye fetches $17,714 versus $74,558. And deafness in one ear is worth $5,280, 83% below the national average.
Honestly, an increase of 16% is a good start, but it is not enough. The 2004 Reforms–and some reform was needed to reign in premium costs–went too far and left injured workers without a way to be compensated for life-changing injuries. Remember, the Workers’ Compensation system exists because more than a century ago, the states took away the right of injured workers to sue their employers and coworkers in civil court for workplace injuries.
If the Workers’ Compensation system doesn’t provide adequate compensation, injured workers are left without any recourse and assistance.