Since July 1, 2010, the maximum weekly benefit rate for NY workers’ compensation (WC) claimants has been floating from year to year. It is pegged to the date of accident—meaning, even if there are increases in later years, the maximum rate in your case stays the same: the max in effect on your date of accident. The max rate changes every July 1st now—-hence this article. When I broke into the WC business in mid-1983, the maximum weekly rate (amount) of Workers’ Compensation that a worker injured after July 1, 1983 could receive was $255 per week, but only if you were totally disabled. Partially disabled workers could only receive $125 per week, at that time, max!
Yesterday, the Workers’ Compensation Board announced that from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, the maximum weekly benefit rate will be increased to $808.65 per week…. a far cry from when I started practicing as a Workers’ Comp attorney.
Maximum rates have been a political football. For a long time they were frozen.
For nearly 15 years, (1992-2007) the maximum benefit remained stagnant at the weekly rates of $340 for total disability and $280 for partial. As of January 1, 2007, New York’s statutory benefit maximum for total disability ($400) still ranked 49th out of 51 jurisdictions – the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Arizona, with a statutory benefit maximum of $374.01, and Mississippi, with a statutory benefit maximum of $387.68, ranked lower.
The Comp Board will say that the 2007 Reform (law change) “dramatically improved indemnity benefits for injured workers.” by increasing the maximum rates. It provided for incremental increases through 2009 and then indexed the maximum rate annually. However, the Workers’ Comp Law in 2007 ’giveth” and then “taketh away.” In exchange for increasing the maximum rates, in 2007 the State Legislature instituted “caps” that made lifetime payments of WC pretty much a thing of the past!
When I broke in in 1983, once an injured worker was found permanently disabled, it was assumed that person would get benefits for the rest of their life—-unless they took a lump sum settlement, or returned to work. Now, the caps say that permanently disabled workers get benefits for a certain number of years, and only if they continuously look for work, but then after the term ends (called the “cap”) the payments stop (with few exceptions.)
So, the max weekly rates went up, but the length of time payments would be made was severely slashed. There was a definite tradeoff in 2007 between labor and big business. This was a landmark political compromise- and one that led to the July 1st annual max rate changes we now have. And don’t forget- not everyone qualifies for the max rate. Most injured workers get less than the max—as the law says if you are totally disabled you get the max, or 2/3 of your weekly wages, at most, whichever is less!
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I am one of 15 attorneys state-wide who have been selected to participate in a “Focus Group” in an apparently ambitious project to “re-engineer” the entire Workers’ Comp system in New York. Here is the official announcement from the State Workers’ Compensation Board about the plan:
Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) BPR@wcb.ny.gov. is an agency-wide endeavor to evaluate and rethink the workers’ compensation system in New York. More than an attempt to improve specific processes, it’s a sweeping effort to examine the workers’ compensation system in New York as it exists today, assess how well it meets its goals, and re-create a system that effectively serves the needs of injured workers and employers.
Large, well-run organizations periodically conduct a BPR to ensure they’re performing well. Imagine it’s 1911, just days after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. As a result of that tragedy, the New York workers’ compensation system was created from the ground up. Today, with the benefit of 100 years of experience, the participation of stakeholders, stronger laws and great advances in technology, we have a more sophisticated understanding of what works and what doesn’t. We again have the opportunity to examine the system and the role of the Board in it. The goal is to create a roadmap of change from where we are now to a better system.
Working with Deloitte the Board will begin outreach to our community of stakeholders through interviews, open forums, and on-line interaction. We’ll collect information to analyze and understand how we serve injured workers and employers, how we serve our other stakeholders, and how the entire community works together and communicates.
The first phase began Aug. 26, 2013. Over the ensuing 28 weeks, a team comprised of Board executive management, Board staff and Deloitte professionals will collect information and interview representatives of stakeholders throughout the state.
Next year, workers’ compensation begins its second century in New York. Now is the time for a comprehensive system review. Over the years, the Board has taken strides and made targeted improvements to enhance the system. This project will focus us on the future of the workers’ compensation system and improve the experience for injured workers and employers.
So, I’m not sure what this all means. Perhaps it’s all just window-dressing for “same old dysfunctional Workers’ Comp Board.” Perhaps meaningful change will soon come about in a system that does not, in my opinion, serve injured workers particularly well in many ways.
Stay tuned. I will keep you informed—-from the inside of the project itself.