Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Pro-Employer, Anti-Employee Rulings of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission Under Review

(Following is another scoop by this blog on the anti-employee rulings of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission. It describes a pending review of that arch-conservative commission. This is in Mississippi, typically the South extreme, but the assault on workers and workers' rights that it points to is taking place across the region and beyond. Previous blog postings and columns published at this site this past summer and early fall helped re-ignite the debate on this issue.)

The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission and its rulings will be the subject of a months-long review by the Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, PEER Director Max Arinder said last week.

“We have had some complaints filed with the committee about actions of the commission, about some of the decisions,” Arinder said.

PEER, whose 14 members include seven state senators and seven state House members, initially approved plans to conduct a review of the commission last October pending the availability of resources. It reaffirmed this decision in December.

As detailed in this column last August, a study ordered by Jackson plaintiffs’ attorney Roger K. Doolittle showed that the three-member commission is decidedly on the side of employers in most disputes between employers and employees regarding workplace injuries. According to the study, the commission’s three members voted to reject administrative law judge decisions favoring workers between 75 and 91 percent of the time.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve never seen a commission this conservative,” said Jackson attorney John Jones, who handles workers’ compensation cases.

Commission Chairman Liles Williams disputed claims of bias but conceded that his own numbers show him voting for the employer 59 percent of the time. Williams’ six-year term in office was scheduled to end in December, but sources say he has gotten the nod from the governor for a second term.

Arinder said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss details of the complaints received about the commission or the upcoming PEER review. However, he said he expected the review to begin in a matter of weeks and that he hoped it wouldn’t take longer than three months to complete. PEER reviews assess and evaluate the accountability of state programs and agencies. Like many state programs, PEER has suffered significant budgetary cutbacks in recent years, reducing its staff from 27 to 21 positions.

The state Court of Appeals handed the Workers’ Compensation Commission a setback in October when it reversed the commission decision in the case of Shirley Cole versus Ellisville State School. The commission had earlier overturned an administrative judge ruling in favor of Cole, a school employee who injured her knee at work. “The Commission erred by reducing Cole’s award of permanent-partial disability benefits,” ruled the Court of Appeals with all of its nine judges in concurrence. “We reverse the Commission’s decision … and reinstate the (administrative judge’s) decision.”

The pending review won’t mark the first time the commission has come under PEER’s scrutiny. At the beginning of Gov. Barbour’s first term, PEER issued a report that said the commission needed more management oversight, and it pointed to poor record-keeping of employee time sheets and accrued leave files.

The state House Insurance Committee held a hearing on Doolittle’s findings more than a year ago and discussed the possibility of an investigation of the commission. However, the investigation remained “in limbo” a year later because of the sharp differences between those on opposing sides of the issue, said committee chairman Walter Robinson of Bolton.

Although statistics on work-related injuries and deaths in Mississippi can be difficult to pin down, attorney Jones estimates at least as many as 13,000 workers are injured on the job every year. Some 80 Mississippi workers died from work-related injuries in 2008.

Mississippi has long ranked at or near the bottom in the nation in workers’ compensation benefits. It was the last state in the nation to adopt a workers’ compensation law. Even today it remains one of the few states that award less than 100 percent of weekly wages to workers injured on the job. Even if the commission rules in their favor, injured Mississippi workers only receive two-thirds of their weekly wages.

A 2005 study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute showed that cases in Mississippi also take much longer to resolve than cases in other states. “The average interval from petition filing to a judge’s order was almost 20 months,” the study said.


  1. Hi Joseph my name is Pamela Williams and I am in a really bad scheme of shady lawyers and for worker comp and the judge whom just ruled on my case know this the attorney for the insurance company lied to the judge in order to keep me form getting weekly benifits. This is grounds for a bad faith law suit. Now a judge is in on this as well. I can send you all my paperwork if you want proof I have even had to enduer a fake English test. To reach me email me at or call me at 662-491-3706

  2. I am in the process of appealing to the commissioner at this time if you want to do a story on this I would gladly welcome it. There is no telling how many people this has happen to here in the state of Mississippi and I am going to do everything in my power and anyone whom will help me to make sure that what has happen to me never happen to anyone else especially by this group of doctor and lawyers.

  3. And worker comp is covering for them