The Center for Justice and Democracy, a New York-based consumer rights group, recently published a report painting a grim picture for injured workers attempting to navigate the workers' compensation system.
According to the report titled "Workers' Compensation--A Cautionary Tale," devastating consequences can arise when a worker is injured: They are left to contend with an adversarial bureaucracy, and inadequate benefits render many of them destitute.
The report, authored by Amy Widman, a Center for Justice and Democracy attorney and policy analyst, lashes out at insurance companies that mounted an organized campaign in the 1990s to shift the financial burden of comp claims back to the injured worker.
The effects of this campaign, which the report says included peddling a distorted rhetoric of fraudulent claims and a grand exaggeration of the problem in order to poison the public opinion of workers filing claims, are still alive today. Media and legislators are still wrongly focused on the problem of claimant fraud, says the report.
"Because of the lobbying efforts and worker fraud 'spin' from the insurance carriers, the 98 percent of workers who are honest and suffering from workplace injuries with legitimate claims are subjected to discrimination, criticism and an antagonistic system in order to receive any financial assistance for their injuries," the author writes.
Under the threat of "social stigma," fewer workers are filing claims, she writes.
The report briefly touches upon workplace safety only to highlight "continuing high fatality numbers and increasing severity of nonfatal injury claims."
However, data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show a nationwide decrease in fatal injuries and cases of illness or injury in the workplace. In 1992, the number of fatal injuries across all industries was 6,217, while in 2002 it went down to 5,534. As for the total of injury or illness cases in private industry, the BLS cites 2,331,098 in 1992 and 1,436,194 in 2002.
Widman and the Center for Justice and Democracy, however, maintain that the current workers' compensation system is neither sufficient nor efficient compensation for injury, as the system is looking more like a "shield for employers and insurance companies to retain ever-higher profits at the expense of workers."
December 1, 2006
Copyright 2006© LRP Publications