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Bill would force asbestos victims into the workers' comp system

This week, the Missouri House took up a workers' compensation bill originating in the Senate and completely rewrote it. Now, victims of occupational diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and chemical injuries would have to jump two more hurdles before they could obtain desperately needed compensation. First, they would have to try to negotiate a compromise with the employers who injured them. Second, they would be forced to resolve their claims through Missouri's already-overburdened workers' compensation system.

While one goal may have been to shore up the Second Injury Fund without raising taxes, many supporters are still arguing that people who got serious illnesses from exposure to hazards at work are filing too much "frivolous" litigation and banking on over-generous awards from sympathetic juries.

"We need to put occupational disease back in comp, where it has been for 80 years," said one representative.

Another lawmaker was not so sanguine. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel's grandfather died from mesothelioma complications.

"He didn't smoke," Hummel told his fellow lawmakers. "He didn't do anything other than go to work and provide for his family. And he died because these companies poisoned him."

The idea in the Senate was to create a new, solvent injury fund which would be financed by a business surcharge, just as the Second Injury Fund was supposed to be funded. Unfortunately, while all workers’ compensation insurance companies and self-insured businesses are supposed to pay into the Second Injury Fund, it is currently running a deficit of $25 million, which is expected to grow.

The House re-write does increase the fees associated with the two injury funds, it also restricts the kinds of claims that could be brought.

Sadly, many lawmakers continue to argue that businesses are threatened by having to pay legitimate claims for the occupational illnesses they caused. While no one likes to owe money, businesses will have to step up, or those least able to absorb the costs of an occupational illnesses will be stuck with the bill.

Source: ConnectMidMissouri.com, "Compromise needed on workers compensation bill," Kermit Miller, May 3, 2013

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