Audit - Firms violating law on reporting employee injuries

Friday, September 27, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Employers and insurance companies are routinely violating a Missouri law requiring them to quickly report work injuries to the state, according to a new state audit.

Insurers or employers who handle their own workers compensation claims are required to report an injury to the state within 10 days of becoming aware of it.

But they failed to meet the deadline in 93 percent of the 459,673 employee injuries that occurred from July 1997 through June 2001, according to a report released Thursday by State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

Slow reporting can delay benefits for injured workers. And injuries that get reported later often end up costing businesses more money through litigation, the audit said.

Violators of Missouri's injury reporting law can be charged with a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a fine from $50 to $500 and up to a year in jail.

But state law does not give the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation power to enforce the law, meaning any cases would have to be referred to the attorney general's office.

The Workers Compensation Division has not referred any cases to the attorney general but, because of the audit, is reviewing its files with the intent of doing so, said agency director Lawrence D. Leip.

Before the audit was conducted, "I was aware there was a late reporting issue. I was not aware of the magnitude of it," Leip said.

That's partly because the agency has focused its efforts on fraudulent claims or companies that do not carry workers' compensation coverage, he said.

Auditor suggests changes

McCaskill recommended the Legislature change the law to allow the state agency to impose penalties for late reporters, a practice already authorized in neighboring Oklahoma and Tennessee, as well as in California, Colorado, New York and Wisconsin.

The next legislative session is scheduled to begin in January.

At least one insurance company took issue with the auditor's report, saying it appeared to be based on an incorrect interpretation of the law.

The Workers' Compensation Division figures the 10-day period from the time an employer learns of the injury, Leip said.

But Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance interprets the law to allow 10 days from the time the insurer learns of the injury from the employer, said Timothy Jackman, vice president of claims administration for the Columbia-based company.

The company, which says it has about 20 percent of the Missouri market for workers compensation insurance, sends electronic reports to the state every Friday.

"We really encourage prompt reporting," Jackman said.


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