At the beginning of the 19th century, states began recognizing that people working in any sort of commercial enterprise carried with it some risk of injury. Law makers realized that every single day someone, somewhere in the State of Alabama is injured badly and they are often on the job.
The law makers decided that rather than allow the workers’ dependents to go hungry which could not in a civilized society be tolerated under circumstances when injury was done for profit. To solve that very real problem, our law makers decided to place the burden of injury upon the employer but at the same time limit the amount that the employer would have to pay. This resulted in the Workers Compensation Act found at Alabama Code Section 25-5-1 et seq (and following).
I have handled workers compensation cases constantly for 30 years. The workers compensation act partly achieves the goal of support of dependents and casts the burden of injury upon the employer. This is great because the employer has now an incentive for work place safety.
It would be fair to say that neither injured employees or their employers are happy with the workers compensation act. It cuts a worker’s pay to two-thirds. It defines what compensation will be paid for various amputations of body parts and calculates future lost wages based on an injury that causes someone to lose function in their neck, shoulders, back or hips.
Workers compensation is a purely statutory scheme. It severely limits the amount that can be recovered by an injured worker. It severely limits defenses that are available to the employer. Outside voluntary intoxication causing injury or the intentional breaking of a known safety rule resulting in injury, when someone is hurt on the job, the employer has to pay their medical bills and a portion of their wages while they are recovering. The Act prevents the employee from suing the employer for anything other than benefits under the workers compensation act. The Act is tricky and requires lawyers on both sides to have a pretty high degree of expertise.
In summary, the Act allows the employer to choose and pay for the doctor. The Act allows for the employer to fire that doctor but then choose from a list of four doctors all selected by and paid by the employer. The Act caps payment for vocational injuries at 300 weeks unless the worker is 100% disabled and then payment is for life.
If anyone ever has a question about an on-the-job injury, I will be glad to sit down and answer your questions. As a side note, I have always found it funny that the Alabama Legislators almost 100 years ago whose job it was to draft a worker’s compensation act simply copied the Minnesota Act word for word and no one knew that for many years.
Next week we will discuss the issue of damages and money recovery.
Buckle up and drive safely.
McCutcheon & Hamner, P.C.
2210 Helton Drive
Florence, Alabama 35630