Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Following up on the workers' compensation issue

(Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to the blog--my day job as journalism professor at Ole Miss--super-intense now as a new semester gets underway--keeps getting in the way! In any case, here's a folo-up to my workers' compensation column)

My recent column on the pro-employer voting record of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission has prompted a stir in the state. Mississippi claimants' attorneys are demanding a legislative investigation into the commission, one that was called for a year ago but which has been "in limbo" all that time, according to state House Insurance Committee Chairman Walter Robinson Jr., D-Bolton.

Robinson conceded to this writer that he is treading carefully on the issue, given the sharp divisions between those on the side of injured workers and those on the side of employers and insurance companies who'd just as soon do away with state-mandated workers' compensation! Isn't this the kind of thing we elect politicians to do? Take on those issues where the lines are sharply divided, and see on which side justice lies?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have received numerous letters from working people across the state of Mississippi who've been burned by the state's neanderthal attitude toward what is owed people who get injured on the job.

"An 80 percent overturn rate (the three-member commission's rate of overturning pro-employee court rulings) is a disgrace!" one writer wrote. "It is time to vote in a governor who appoints no more `pocket judges' owned by the greedy insurance companies."

"I was involved in an auto accident in 1979 and have an ongoing medical claim with the company," wrote another reader. "I know all too well the pitfalls of workers' comp in Mississippi. I do not believe the public has a clue what's going on."

"It is great to know that someone in Mississippi is paying attention to our pitiful workers' comp problems," said yet another. "In 2004, after suffering a work-related injury, I was told by my doctor I would never be able to return to work. I was devastated but thought `I have workers' comp. It will take care of me.' I was surprised to find that as soon as the doctor turned this notice into the workers' comp carrier, all payments stopped."

"Your article ... hit close to home," wrote a loving father. "My daughter's boyfriend works for a towing company and recently had an accident where he lodged a piece of steel in his eye. The boat captain carried him to the emergency room to have it removed. Last week, he received his paycheck (and) noticed it was very short. He called ... and was told that the towing company is not required to carry workman's comp insurance."

I'm going to follow this issue. Not only because it needs to be followed, but also because no one else is doing it. Where are the investigative media in this state? You know what? You could find the same compelling story in every single state in the South. I know my region, and I'll guarantee you it's a story not being covered anywhere in Dixie by mainstream media.

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