While Texas has been fortunate to have sustained economic growth for several years, enough to be dubbed the “Texas miracle,” some argue that this growth has come at a disturbing price, particularly higher worker fatalities and weak benefits for workers who are injured.
Texas is the only state in the country that does not require employers to carry workers compensation insurance. This means that as many as half a million workers may be risking their health every day at job sites that will not provide for them if they get injured. That is a real problem given that Texas has led the country in occupational fatalities for seven of the last 10 years.
Employers here do have the option of purchasing private occupational insurance. However, those plans come with several problems attached. Their benefits are often strictly limited, as are the workers’ legal rights and medical options, and they are generally not regulated by the state. Employers claim that employees get faster and better care under the private system, although there is little information to support or refute that view.
For those whose workplaces are covered by the state workers compensation insurance, they often have an uphill battle to gain benefits to cover them while they recover from an injury. Over the past five years, insurance companies have denied or disputed nearly half of all claims when they are first filed. Once the cases go to hearing, even if employees win, they might still go through judicial reviews, which means having their awards scrutinized in state court. One critic complained that the system threw workers away “like tissue paper.” The state Comissioner of the Division of Workers’ Compensation, Rod Bordelon, disagreed, claiming that the system was terrific and that “positive” trends included reduced rates for coverage, fewer injuries being reported, and enforcement actions increasing against insurers. Then again, this blog noted last month that Bordelon resigned from his position (effective August 1) amidst criticism that he was too cozy with the insurers that he was supposed to be regulating.
Those outside the government system are required to notify the state that they have opted out, but over 90 percent of these employers have failed to do so. Moreover, 25 percent of companies with five or more employees fail to report time lost to injuries and fatalities. Although companies that do not report are supposed to be fined as much as $25,000 per day until they comply, the Workers’ Compensation Division has issued just $80,000 in fines since 2009. Division officials could not recall the last time a maximum fine had been levied. Most fines since 2012 have run from $500 to $1,500.
While the Texas legislature has considered toughening workers compensation requirements, they have run into opposition from politically powerful big business. For example, when the legislature attempted to pass a bill that would have made state-regulated workers compensation insurance mandatory for the construction industry, the construction companies assured that it was defeated.
Meanwhile, if injured workers turn to other sources, such as lawsuits, to get the compensation they need, employers who have opted out of the government system can legally retaliate, often by firing that person. As one observer noted, the best way for a worker to survive such a dysfunctional system is to not get injured in the first place.
Those who have been injured in a workplace accident could be entitled to workers’ compensation, as well as compensation from any third party responsible. The experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help. Call our office today for more information at 1-800-862-1260.