Maine Workers’ Compensation Reform Could Expand Injured Employee Benefits

Workers injured on-the-job in Maine are almost all entitled to no-fault workers’ compensation benefits in accordance with Title 39-A of Maine Revised Statutes. With very few exceptions, those hurt in the course and scope of employment can receive compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and vocational training. Survivors of employees who die of these injuries can collect death benefits.
As Portland workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, this was all part of the “grand bargain” struck between labor unions and employers in the early 20th century, in exchange for strictly curtailing, in most cases, a worker’s right to sue an employer for such injuries. However, employee advocates say benefits are insufficient and too difficult to obtain, thanks to years of legislative efforts (the biggest push being in 1992) favoring insurance companies and big industry. This, they say, combined with a twenty-six percent cost of living increase in Maine, makes the current situation untenable for injured workers.
State legislative committees have scheduled hearings, where workers and their families are slated to testify, arguing that reform is necessary because the state’s current workers’ compensation framework is unfair and causes undue hardship.¬†State lawmakers are considering more than two dozen bills that would amount to sweeping reform of Maine’s workers’ compensation system. The objective, say supporters, is to balance the scales. The system was overhauled roughly 25 years ago by those who insisted the state’s approach – the most expensive in the nation – put the entire system on the verge of collapse.

Why Maine Workers’ Compensation Attorneys See Value in Reform

Portland workers’ compensation attorneys know the system must be viable, but the broad reforms of the 1990s put workers squarely at a disadvantage. Insurer costs have reportedly fallen 60 percent, according to the Portland Press-Herald, but have left injured workers with inadequate compensation.
To address the erosion of workers’ rights, the bills collectively would undo several of those 1992 reforms, with changes including:
  • Removal of restrictions/caps on worker benefits;
  • Increasing the time in which injured workers can file a claim;
  • Reducing proof burdens for work injury claims based on mental health impacts;
  • Incorporating a cost-of-living adjustment that would be updated annually.
Worker advocates say these measures should not impact insurance premiums significantly, and other states are a good example, especially because overall work injuries in Maine are in decline. According to Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company, an estimated 15,000 employees out of a workforce of roughly 600,000 filed workers’ compensation claims in Maine in 2016. That is a fifty percent reduction in workplace injuries since the early 1990s when reforms were initiated.

The proposals (twenty-five in all, with more scheduled) are scheduled for a first hearing before the Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee.

Third-Party Litigation After A Maine Work Injury

In any workers’ compensation claim, one of the first things our Portland work injury attorneys analyze is whether third parties may also be liable. The reasoning behind this is because workers’ compensation benefits are too often inadequate.
Although Maine workers’ compensation law stipulates that it is to be the exclusive remedy of employees, that pertains only to the employer and co-workers of that same employer. Third parties, whether a motorist, another contractor or property owner, are not shielded from liability for their negligence simply because the person they injured was working at the time. Workers’ compensation benefits only go so far even in the best of circumstances. No state allows workers’ compensation beneficiaries to obtain non-economic damages such as pain and suffering from an employer, but such claims can be pursued against third parties via a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
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