New Workers’ Compensation Bills Introduced in Alabama Senate
Senator Arthur Orr (R, Decatur) recently introduced SB-89, which would limit employers’ liability for permanent total disability benefits. Currently, an employer must pay permanent total disability benefits for as long as the employee remains permanently and totally disabled. SB-89 would amend § 25-5-57 (a)(4) a. of The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to provide that permanent total disability benefits would terminate upon the later of the employee’s 65th birthday, or 500 weeks after the date of injury. Additionally, SB-89 would amend § 25-5- 77(j) of The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to create a rebuttable presumption that medical treatment is not related to the work injury when the employee does not receive medical treatment related to the claimed injury for a period of two years. In addition, the employer’s obligation to provide treatment would conclusively end if the employee does not receive medical treatment related to the claimed injury for a period of four or more years. SB-89 was first read in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility & Economic Development Committee on February 7, 2017.
Senator Orr also introduced SB-196, which would amend Alabama Code § 13A-11-124 to (1) expand the type of activity related to workers’ compensation fraud that is subject to criminal penalties; (2) authorize an award of civil damages to employers and insurers damaged by fraudulent claims; (3) allow the Department of Labor to immediately terminate compensation payments upon a determination of fraud; and (4) provide for the repayment of fraudulently obtained workers’ compensation benefits (with interest). Under SB-196, it would be a class C felony to (1) knowingly make a false or misleading statement, representation, or submission concerning any fact that is material to a workers’ compensation claim; (2) coerce, solicit, encourage, or employ another to make a false or misleading statement concerning a fact material to a workers’ compensation claim or the payment of compensation or premiums; (3) present multiple claims for the same injury; (4) fabricate, alter, conceal, or destroy a document; or (5) attempt to obtain treatment or compensation for body parts that were not injured in the course and scope of the employment. SB-196 was first read in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility & Economic Development Committee on February16, 2017.
Continue to follow our blog for updates as these bills are debated in the legislature.
My Two Cents
The limitation on permanent total disability benefits makes a lot of sense, since employees are generally eligible for Social Security benefits in the mid-late sixties. If SB-89 becomes law, the costs of workers’ compensation insurance should decline, which could make Alabama more attractive to businesses looking to expand or relocate. Unfortunately, it will not likely pass because of the portion of SB-89 that seeks to cut off medical benefits after extended periods without treatment.
SB-196 would give Alabama one of the most aggressive anti-fraud laws in the country. If it becomes law, it could lower insurance costs by deterring fraud. However, like any criminal statute, how well it deters crime will depend primarily on how aggressively it is enforced.
About the Author
This article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC. Fish Nelson & Holden is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields. If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.