The latest scam being pushed by big-box chain stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot is that they should be entitled to "opt-out" of workers’ compensation laws around the country, including Pennsylvania.
As originally conceived a century ago, the workers' compensation system was a deal in which labor gave up the right to sue employers for negligence, and in return they were to receive “no fault” workers' compensation benefits.
In a negligence action, you can recover for pain and suffering, loss of future earning power, medical expenses, lost wages, and even punitive damages. Under the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act, in most cases injured workers are limited to receiving medical expense and wage loss benefits that are fixed and never go up.
The big box chains now want to have it both ways. Give up the right to sue, they tell us, and out of the kindness of our hearts we will keep your family from starving if you get injured on the job.
Under the sleazy scams they are pushing via their lackeys in the General Assembly, they would provide an internal workers' compensation procedure that is the equivalent of the state workers' compensation system.
How likely is it that such a system would be fair?
Can you imagine suing somebody and walking into court and the person you are suing is the judge and the jury consists of the judge's friends and relatives? That's about as fair as these "opt-out" systems will be.
We already have an asinine system that governs benefits paid under employer-sponsored disability plans. Under federal law, if you have a claim under such a policy, you have the right to a trial. Trouble is, the judge and jury is the insurance company.
Yes, you heard right. If you appeal a denial of benefits in this federally protected insurance scheme, your case is heard by the insurance company, and the decsion has the same force as one made by an independent judge.. You just have to trust them to “do the right thing.” Hmmm.
It seems to me that if you take the judge out of the courtroom, it’s no longer a courtroom. After all, if you replaced all the doctors in a hospital with magicians, performing dogs and lion tamers, it might be a fun place to go, but you can’t call it a hospital anymore.
I once represented a guy with a huge brain tumor. He couldn’t think right. He limped. His IQ had fallen 50 points from genius level to average, but this didn’t tell the whole story. On mental tests he performed beautifully on some tasks but dismally on others. Ask him about 19th century history and you’d sit fascinated for hours. Ask him to draw a box and he couldn’t connect 4 lines.
The policy he paid premiums on for years said he’d get benefits if he were disabled from his occupation. The “Judge,” who was some flunky inside the insurance company, denied him benefits. Why? His doctor said he could work “light duty” and his job was sedentary. His job? Software engineer. He couldn’t have worked that job even if the lives of his children depended on it.
People who favor these kinds of scams think that it is no big deal for any one particular family to starve. After all, that’s always something that happens to the other fellah.
What are the interests of one little family when you've got this big company that needs to make as much profit as possible? Don't they provide people with jobs? If somebody is paralyzed in the job, let's hand them a small check and wish them good luck. We can't let their petty concerns get in the way of business!
Let’s be clear about what’s going on here. Wal-Mart, Home Depot and their filthy rich lobbyists are pushing these bullshit schemes to gain an unfair advantage over competitors and shift the cost of caring for the indigent disabled from those responsible to the taxpayer. The next time you think you’re getting a bargain shopping at these places, remember that your tax dollars are funding their corporate welfare.