Bill Eliminating ‘Safety Net’ for Injured Workers?

A Tennessean story questions whether Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers compensation overhaul legislation will eliminate the “safety net” for workers hurt on the job. As an example, the story gives the example of Matt Webster, permanently disabled by a fire in the Shelbyville printing plant where he worked.
Webster got a $235,000 settlement under the current system. He would have received $57,000 under the Haslam plan.
“There’s no way I could have stayed in my house with that,” the Lewisburg, Tenn., man said. “I would have pretty much lost about everything I had.”
Haslam’s proposal, now hurtling toward near-certain passage in the state legislature, won’t affect Webster because his case has already gone through the system. But it and other cases illustrate how the proposed reforms would impact workers who are hurt in the future.
Those workers would go through an administrative process designed to resolve disputes more quickly than the courts, resulting in earlier disability payouts. The payouts would become standardized — and largely not open for attorney negotiation, as they are now — at lower amounts than what workers could get under the system’s current rules.
It’s a tradeoff that reform advocates say is needed to streamline and bring more predictability to a cumbersome system. But critics say the proposal would sacrifice worker compensation and protections for the sake of expediency and saving money.
The overhaul, contained in a 68-page bill, has moved swiftly — to the chagrin of critics — through the GOP-controlled legislature. It already has cleared the Senate and is set for certain House approval on Thursday.

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