Changes in Workers' Compensation Laws, 2002: Changes in State Compensation Laws Ranged from Increasing Death Benefit and Burial Expense Amounts, to Revising the Criteria for Eligibility for Disability Benefits, to Expanding Coverage for Rescue Workers Whose Health Was Affected or Whose Life Was Terminated by the Events of September 11, 2001. (Worker's Compensation, 2002)

Article excerpt

California enacted major changes to its workers' compensation statutes in 2002. One of the more significant provisions included increasing the maximum weekly benefit for temporary disability and permanent total disability to $602 for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2003; to $728 for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2004; and to $840 for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2005. Beginning January 1,2006, and each January 1 thereafter, the maximum weekly benefit will be increased by an amount equal to the percentage in the State average weekly wage. Also, effective January 1, 2006, death benefits will be increased from $125,000, $145,000, and $160,000 to $250,000, $290,000, and $320,000, respectively, according to the number of surviving dependents.

In Florida, the Division of Workers' Compensation was transferred from the Department of Labor and Employment Security to the Department of Insurance. Workers' compensation medical services were transferred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and workers' compensation rehabilitation and reemployment services to the Department of Education.

In Kentucky, certain presumptions of disability were created for claimants diagnosed with pneumoconiosis on the basis of X-ray and spirometric test values.

Maximum burial expenses were increased from $5,000 to $15,000 in Rhode Island and from $2,500 to $5,000 in Wyoming.

In New Jersey and New York, coverage issues resulting from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were addressed.

Alaska

A resident of the State temporarily engaged as a civilian volunteer in an emergency or a disaster relief function in another State or country who suffers injury or death during the course, and within the scope, of providing such aid is considered an employee of that State or country for workers' compensation purposes. The requirements for determining whether someone qualifies as a volunteer are outlined in detail.

California

The maximum weekly benefit for temporary disability and for permanent total disability was increased to $602 for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2003; to $728 for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2004, and to $840 for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2005.

Beginning January 1, 2006, and each January 1 thereafter, the maximum and minimum temporary disability and permanent total disability benefit will be increased by an amount equal to the percentage in the State average weekly wage.

The maximum weekly permanent partial-disability benefit, currently between $140 and $230 per week, will be increased to $230 in 2006 for all partial-disability ratings below 70 percent and to $270 for those above 70 percent.

Effective January 1, 2006, death benefits will be increased from $125,000, $145,000, and $160,000 to $250,000, $290,000, and $320,000, respectively, according to the number of surviving dependents.

Death benefit payments for a totally dependent child who is physically or mentally incapacitated and therefore unable to earn a salary shall continue until the death of that child.

An employer and an attorney-represented employee may agree to settle the employee's right to prospective vocational rehabilitation services with a one-time payment to the employee not to exceed $10,000 for the employee's use in self-directed vocational rehabilitation. The settlement agreement must be approved by the administrative director's vocational rehabilitation unit.

It is unlawful to knowingly make, or cause to be made, a fraudulent material statement or representation for the purpose of obtaining or denying benefits or reimbursement provided in the Return-to-Work Program, or for discouraging an employer from claiming any benefits or reimbursement provided in the Return-to-Work Program.

All workers' compensation administrative law judges appointed on or after January 1, 2003, shall be attorneys licensed to practice law in California for 5 or more years prior to their appointment and shall have experience in workers' compensation law. …