Some changes are on the horizon in Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation law. These changes will take effect on January 1, 2014 (they will not affect claims that are already pending, but rather, will affect injuries occuring after January 1, 2014). Here are some of the changes that significantly affect the rights of injured workers:
1. A person who works for “board, lodging, aid or sustenance from any religious, charitable or relief organization” will not be considered an employee under the workers’ compensation law.
2. The law is completely changed for individuals suffering from an occupational disease due to toxic exposure to one of the following illnesses: mesothelioma, asbestosis, beryllosis, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, bronchiolitis obliterans, silicosis, silocotuberculosis, manganism, acute myelogenous leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. An employee suffering from one of these named diseases may be entitled to additional workers’ compensation benefits beyond the benefits available to all other injured employees.
3. Significant changes are being made to the Second Injury Fund:
a. There will be no further claims for permanent partial disability. In other words, if the injured employee is still able to work, he will not be entitled to any Second Injury Fund benefits. Gone are the days when an employee could get a few thousand dollars more for a pre-existing injury if they are still able to work.
b. Second Injury Fund benefits will still be available for employees who are permanently and totally disabled and unable to ever work again, but only if their prior injury or injuries meet at least 50 weeks of disability and also meet the following criteria:
i. The prior injuries are the direct result of active military duty, OR
ii. The prior disabilities are the direct result of a compensable workers’ compensation injury, OR
iii. If the prior disability is not the product of a compensable work injury, but the pre-existing disability directly and significantly aggravates or accelerates the subsequent work injury (the interpretation of this section will probably be hotly contested in the courts) OR
iv. The pre-existing injury is to the opposite extremity (in other words, the work accident was to the left arm and the prior accident was to the right arm) or the pre-existing injury is to loss of hearing or vision in one ear or eye and the work injury is to the other ear or eye.
4. The workers’ compensation law will once again be the exclusive remedy for occupational disease and repetitive trauma cases. Employees will no longer be able to file civil claims against their employers for these types of injuries after January 1, 2014.
Other changes appear in the law, but these are the most significant changes for injured employees. We highly suggest you contact an attorney before January 1, 2014 if you have a situation that might be affected by the above changes in the law. If you currently have a claim filed, these changes will not affect you.