Guest blog, written by Joey Hodgin, an attorney and head of the Workers’ Compensation practice for HensonFuerst Attorneys.
As an attorney, I have represented hundreds of injured workers for the better part of 10 years. Now, I suspect that as soon as you read the word “attorney,” a certain percentage of you started swearing at your computer screen, while others probably offered a prayer. I don’t pretend to be a saint, but I’m not that bad of a guy either. At least my 3 year old daughter doesn’t think so, especially ever since I told her we’d go out for ice cream this weekend. But as an attorney who has represented a decade’s worth of injured people, I do have some insight that I’d like to share. It’s actually insight that puts all of us in the same boat. So, please read on…maybe we can become friends.
I was struck by a recent article in the News & Observer about employers who fail to follow the law requiring them to purchase Workers’ Compensation Insurance. (“When N.C. Employers Dodge Workers’ Comp Costs” April 1, 2012). The focus of the article was the problem created for injured workers when employers fail to follow the law and carry insurance. Make no mistake: In some cases, lives are ruined.
I represented a lady several years ago—let’s call her Diane—who was a waitress for a local breakfast spot. She had spent most of her working life serving food and pouring coffee. Part of her job was to walk next door to the gas station and get the newspaper, which she would bring back and put on the counter for customers to read. One morning, she went to get the paper. She tripped. She broke her hip. Her employer did not carry insurance. Diane is in her 60s and likely will not work again. She had to sign up for Medicaid to get her surgery bills paid.
To be sure, this accident had devastating consequences on Diane’s life, much as it did for Danny Allred, the injured employee who was cited in the N&O article. But there is a broader problem—one that most of us don’t think about: Our tax dollars—yours and mine—paid for Diane’s surgery. We paid because her employer didn’t follow the law.
Not possible, you may think, but it’s true. Medicaid is funded by tax dollars taken from the paychecks of people who work. People like me, and probably you. We work…pay taxes…follow the law. But some deadbeat employer out there doesn’t follow the law. He doesn’t purchase insurance. Why? He’d rather increase his profits. And, he’d much rather we, the taxpayers, pay for the surgery. He knows, as the N&O article revealed, that there are virtually no consequences for being a deadbeat employer.
If that doesn’t make your blood boil, I don’t know what does.
I know, I know . . . some of you are saying that employers without insurance are not deadbeats—they’ve just fallen on hard times and can’t afford it. Well, a lot of us have fallen on hard times in recent years. Yet, we still follow the law and meet our responsibilities. We pay our car insurance. We pay our homeowner’s insurance. We pay our medical insurance. Why should it be any different for a business? So let’s just call the “fallen on hard times” rhetoric what it really is: an unjustifiable excuse.
You see, you can fail to enforce penalties against uninsured employers. You can cut back on the medical benefits that employees receive when employers actually do have insurance. But, the problem won’t go away. It is a fact: business and industry have always, and will always, have workers that get hurt. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way it is. I’m certainly not suggesting that companies should be penalized out of existence when a worker is hurt. That doesn’t help anybody. What I am saying is that businesses should pay for their own wreckage. They should pay the cost, not us. We’re not the ones profiting off the backs of their workers, they are. If injuries are a “cost of doing business,” then let business pay those costs.
So the next time you hear somebody talking about not being able to afford Workers’ Compensation Insurance, or how the rates are just too high, or how we need to scale back on workers’ benefits, remember what those comments really mean. It’s all code, another way of saying that they’d rather have you pay for it.
To learn more about how HensonFuerst pursues the rights of injured workers, visit our dedicated Workers’ Comp webpage at https://www.hensonfuerst.com/WorkersComp/