Small words, but big changes

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

By Pat Naeger

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- This past week many of the state's employers and their trade organizations were at the Capitol to rally in support of workers' compensation reform.

While it was good to see so many of the folks who drive the economy rallying to a worthy cause, it was probably for nothing more than show.

That is because we still have a governor who does not want to protect the employers and honest working people of this state from fraud caused by trial lawyers and dishonest working people.

At the heart of the issue is what should or should not be covered by the workers' compensation program. The program was originally set up as a system by which workers who were injured on the job could be compensated without retaining a lawyer or going to court. It has evolved into a booming business for lawyers and a way for workers who were injured at places other than on the job to suck money out of the system.

While it sounds almost silly, the main point of contention comes down to two words. The way it is now, the law reads that the workplace has to be "a" cause of the injury. We would like that to read that the workplace has to be "the" cause of the injury. With the "a" instead of "the," a worker can injure his foot playing weekend softball, come in to work on Monday and claim that his job irritated the injury and collect for the whole thing.

While it is the state's employers that are calling the loudest for this reform, the honest workers of this state should be outraged as well. Every time there is a payment for a fraudulent claim, there is less money available to pay the legitimate claims.

In all the years I have been in office, we have made numerous attempts to change the law. We have always been defeated by the trial lawyers and the labor unions. I can see why the trial lawyers oppose the change. It would take a lot of business away from them. I am puzzled as to why the unions oppose the change. By keeping it the way it is, it actually leaves less money to pay the legitimate claims. I can't understand why the unions would choose to favor the fraudulent claims over the legitimate ones.

We have had governors for the last 10 years who oppose the change as well, and we have a situation where it is hard to recruit new businesses to the state. It is very hypocritical for any elected official to talk about how we need to revive the economy and then work against a change that would do just that and help honest working people all over this state.

I know whose side I am on: the honest working people.

Pat Naeger represents the 155th District in the Missouri House of Representatives.

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