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Of approximately 15,000 claims filed each year, about 3,000 are challenged

Workers’ comp important for employers, employees

Employment puts food on the table and enables families to go on vacations, go to school and maybe buy that new SUV, not to mention the fact that working is a social outlet.

In short, work is a way of life. But there are occasions that some people are not able to work, because of injury or disability. And since it is almost impossible to get rid of things in the workplace that result in disability or injury, there is a little something called workers’ compensation.

According to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), “injury” is defined as “accidental injury or accidental death arising out of and in the course of employment without regard to fault which results from an untoward event or events, if contributed to or aggravated or accelerated by the employment in a significant manner. Untoward event includes events causing unexpected results. . . . This definition includes injuries to artificial members, and also includes an injury caused by the willful act of a third person directed against an employee because of his employment while so employed and working on the job . . . . all provisions of this chapter apply equally to occupational diseases as well as injury” (Section 71-3-3(b)).

In the workers’ compensation sense, “disability” is occupational, not medical impairment. The Act defines disability as “incapacity because of injury to earn the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of injury in the same or other employment, which incapacity and the extent thereof must be supported by medical finding” (Section 71-3-3(i)).

The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission and its eight administrative judges work hard conducting hearings throughout Mississippi for workers’ compensation claims. During the course of a year, there may be 15,000 claims, and although 12,000 will be settled without the involvement of attorneys, the other 3,000 or so are challenged.

If the cases are heard and then either of the two sides wishes to appeal the decision, the claim is then taken to the three members of the commission, who are appointed by the Governor. The three commissioners, Barney Schoby, Beverly Bolton and Chairman Ben Barrett Smith then hear oral arguments and either affirm, amend or reverse the judge’s decision. From that point, the decision may be appealed to the Circuit and then to the Supreme Court. Any company that has five or more people employed must carry workers’ compensation coverage. Eighty-five percent carry coverage and 10% to 12% are members of a self-insured group. The remaining 2% or 3% provide their own coverage for employees.

“I can’t really speak for them, but I think that business and industry is concerned (that) people who are injured or have an occupational disease are fairly compensated during the period they are unable to work,” Smith said. “It’s (workers’ compensation) really a good thing and protects the business community from civil litigation.”In fact, the sole remedy for injured employees is workers’ compensation. And regardless of whether the employee or the employer is at fault for the employee’s disability or injury, the employee still has the right to be compensated, according to Smith.

The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission is not funded by a tax base, but by an annual assessment to employers. All the annual assessments create a fund used to operate the agency and that assessment is kept as low as possible each year.

“Compensation is regarded as a cost of doing business, a cost no doubt to be passed on to the consumer of the employer’s goods or services,” wrote Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James L. Robertson, in his dissenting opinion in Smith & Sanders, Inc. v. Peery.

Traveling employees and employees on call may be compensated for injury or disability, as well as an employee who is going to or coming from their workplace if the accident occurs on the employer’s physical premises. Death benefits are also provided if the employee is killed while on the job.

In cases where it is impossible to “determine the exact extent of disability” and “where the prescribed schedules are not applicable,” parties may agree to settle a workers’ compensation claim in something called a “compromise settlement.” Death claims may also be compromised and settled (Section 71-3-29).

“Lump-Sum Settlements” occur when an injured worker or his or her dependents, in a death case, receives benefits. The worker or his or her dependents may request a commuted lump sum payment. This is according to Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Law, an outline prepared for West Bar Review by Linda A. Thompson.

Aside from simply providing compensation, employers may also be subject to penalties and interest if they do not pay benefits on time.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series focusing on workers’ compensation in Mississippi.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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