The Associated Press reported that when the Missouri Legislature convenes tomorrow, one of the first goals for Republicans in the Show Me State will be to use their new supermajorities to force claims for occupational diseases to go through the workers’ compensation system. Incoming Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey pledged that changes to the workers’ compensation system will top the agenda for 2013. The AP noted that the maximum amount of money awarded to harmed workers in workers’ compensation “could be significantly less than through a successful jury verdict.”
This proposed plan to prohibit lawsuits against the negligent companies that knowingly exposed workers to toxic chemicals is remarkably callous legislation. The nonprofit organization Protect Missouri Workers says that workers’ compensation benefits are limited to only $799 per week. This amount is horrendously insufficient when it comes to covering medical costs for victims of lung cancer, mesothelioma and other terminal diseases.
Senate Bill 572 and House Bill 1403 are being sold to the public as necessary for “bringing jobs to Missouri.” In fact, the AP published a dubious claim from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry that suggested “Missouri now is the only state in which the workers’ compensation system is not the exclusive means of resolving claims about occupational diseases.” House Speaker Tim Jones told the AP, “If that is true, I think that’s disastrous to our economic job creation model.”
One enormous problem with this logic is that the proposed legislation eliminating the right to sue for sickened workers would mean that the victim’s final employer—not necessarily the negligent employer—would pay workers’ compensation benefits for future occupational diseases. In other words, innocent local businesses would be required to pay all benefits while the company that was truly responsible for the illness would never be held accountable.
When similar bills last were sent to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon last March, a Kansas City Star editorial said the legislation “would make Missouri a more hostile and dangerous place to work.” Similarly, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial noted how “Republicans in the Legislature insist on punishing the grieving families of workers who die from mesothelioma as a result of inhaling asbestos.” Both editorials encouraged Nixon to exercise his power of veto, which is exactly what he did.
“Current law appropriately recognizes the severity and duration of these types of occupational diseases, which may take years or even decades to manifest themselves, by allowing affected workers broader redress through access to the civil justice system,” Nixon said in his veto letter.
Unfortunately, GOP supermajorities in Missouri’s House and Senate will give the state’s Republicans the power to override any gubernatorial veto. In addition to the workers’ compensation changes, the USA Today reported that other “business-friendly laws” are likely to include a minimum-wage freeze, medical malpractice limits and a “controversial rewrite of the state’s anti-discrimination law” that Nixon “has already vetoed twice.”
We have more information about occupations with high risk for mesothelioma available on our website. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, fill out the form on this page or contact our firm at (800) 687-3333 to have our Dallas litigation lawyers review your case.
Stanley Iola, LLP – Dallas litigation attorneys