The Post-Dispatch has reported that the Missouri House passed a workers compensation reform bill that would make occupational diseases or exposure cases subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the the workers compensation laws of Missouri. This bill is the same as the one the Missouri Senate passed a few weeks ago. Whether this legislation becomes law is up to the governor.
The target of this legislation is workers who are injured on the job from circumstances that do not qualify as an accident under the definition in the Missouri workers compensation law. These injuries can include carpal tunnel, asbestos exposure or other repetitive use or exposure injuries. While under the current interpretation of the 2005 amendments to the law, these injuries are not subject to the workers compensation act, the fact missing from the arguments in favor of returning these injuries to the comp system entirely is that to prove a civil case against an employer, an injured worker must show negligence.
That is one of the fundamental difference between the two systems. Under workers compensation laws, the need to prove negligence is negated in exchange for certain, but limited compensation. Under a civil action, the damages are not restricted, but the injury must be caused by negligence. Certainly in many work accidents, the employer could be considered negligent in such ways as failing to provide proper equipment and non-ergonomic work spaces when they know repetitive actions are being performed by employees.
The solution or the correct remedy will be debated by the legislators, commentators and likely the courts. However, right now, an injured worker's avenue to pursue compensation is dependent on the facts of the case.
Mike Sudekum is a workers compensation lawyer in Missouri and Illinois. You may reach him here or follow him on twitter by clicking the button on this page.