Changes in Workers' Compensation Laws during 2000

Article excerpt

About half of all States changed their workers' compensation laws to some, extent, with most of them increasing benefits for both disability and death

A number of States increased their maximum workers' compensation rates for disability and/or death in 2000.

For example, Alaska's maximum weekly compensation benefit for disability or death changed to 120 percent of the State's average weekly wage from $700, and the maximum permanent impairment compensation benefits increased to $177,000 from $135,000 to be multiplied by the employee's percentage of permanent impairment of the whole person. In Georgia, the weekly maximum benefit for temporary total disability increased to $375 and the minimum to $37.50 (up from $350 and $35 respectively). Also in Georgia, the weekly maximum benefit for temporary partial disability increased to $250 from $233.33, and the maximum death benefit to $125,000 from $100,000. In Indiana, the maximum compensation, exclusive of medical benefits, that may be paid for an injury on and after July 1, 2000, and before July 1, 2001, may not exceed $254,000. On October 1, 2000, Minnesota's maximum weekly compensation increased to $750 per week from $615, and the minimum increased to $130 per week from $104. In Rhode Island the maximum rate for weekly compensation for total disability changed to 110 percent (previously 100 percent) of the State's average weekly wage.

Examples of coverage changes included extending presumptions of coverage for certain diseases suffered by law enforcement officers or firefighters, or both, in California, Maryland, and Virginia; and redefining the term "employee" in Arizona, Georgia, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

In Nebraska, the Second Injury Fund was renamed the Workers' Compensation Trust Fund, and all monies in the Second Injury Fund were transferred to the Workers' Compensation Trust Fund. The Second Injury Fund had previously been eliminated for injuries occurring on or after December 1, 1997. An Uninsured Employers' Fund was established in Tennessee to ensure the timely provision of workers' compensation benefits to workers injured during periods when an employer has no insurance.

Maximum burial allowances increased to $5,000 in Alaska, to $7,000 in Colorado, and to $15,000 in Minnesota.

The following is a State-by-State summary of significant changes to workers' compensation laws.

Alaska

An employer must have paid its assessed annual service fees before receiving a self-insurance certificate.

Upon notification of eligibility, an employee now has 15 days (formally, 10 days) to give written notice, to the employer that he or she has selected a rehabilitation specialist. Failure to give such notice constitutes noncooperation. A reemployment plan must require continuous participation by the employee and must maximize the use of the employee's transferable skills. Compensation paid before completion or termination of a reemployment plan, but after exhaustion of temporary total and permanent impairment benefits, increased to 70 percent from 60 percent of the employee's weekly wages. The maximum amount allowable is now 105 percent of the average weekly wage, up from $525. The maximum allowed under a reemployment plan increased to $13,300 from $10,000. The maximum weekly compensation rate for disability or death changed to 120 percent of the State's average weekly wage (previously, it was $700). If an employee's spendable weekly wages are less than 22 percent of the maximum compensation rate (previously $154), the employee will receive his/her spendable weekly wage. Permanent impairment compensation benefits increased to $177,000 from $135,000 to be multiplied by the employee's percentage of permanent impairment of the whole person. The maximum burial allowance is now $5,000, up from $2,500. The percentage of death benefits to a widow or widower and children also increased. A death benefit payment of $5,000 is now made to a surviving widow or widower, or equally divided among surviving children of the deceased if there is no widow or widower. …