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Workers' compensation and careless employee behavior

The term "grand bargain" is somewhat disfavored in Washington these days. But it shouldn't be; after all, a civilized society requires compromise and negotiation to move forward. Without those things, the clash of competing interests can harm everyone.

Workers' compensation law is based on one such grand bargain. Workers give up certain rights to sue employers for work-related injuries. Employers, in turn, get a structured system for resolving injury claims by employees who suffered workplace injuries or illness.

To make this system work, each side has had to give a little. Employers cannot require employees to be perfect - and so workers' comp claims are generally allowed even if the employee may have been careless about his or her own safety. Similarly, employees give up the right to sue their employers directly for most workplace injuries. But they do detain the right to bring what are called "third party" claims, such as against negligent contractors or manufacturers of defective products.

Overall, the system works quite well for both sides. Sometimes, however, there are attempts to change the system in a particular state. In New Mexico, for example, there was recently a legislative attempt to restrict workers' compensation benefits for employees who were impaired by alcohol when their workplace injuries occurred.

The proposal for this change came after a city worker with a blood-alcohol content of .12 fell off a garbage truck and was injured. The worker received workers' compensation benefits that exceeded $100,000 that were eventually upheld on appeal. The appeals said that there was not sufficient evidence to show that drunkenness was the sole cause of the accident.

Source: "Democrats block New Mexico bill regarding workers' compensation," El Paso Times, Milan Simonich, 2-8-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in Maryland. To learn more about our practice, please visit our main workers' compensation page.

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