What is the Purpose of the Mississippi Workersâ€™ Compensation Act?
The first section of the law says this: Â§ 71-3-1. Citation; purpose; construction
(1) This chapter shall be known and cited as “Workers’ Compensation Law,” and shall be administered by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, hereinafter referred to as the “commission,” cooperating with other state and federal authorities for the prevention of injuries and occupational diseases to workers and, in event of injury or occupational disease, their rehabilitation or restoration to health and vocational opportunity; and this chapter shall be fairly and impartially construed and applied according to the law and the evidence in the record, and, notwithstanding any common law or case law to the contrary, this chapter shall not be presumed to favor one party over another and shall not be liberally construed in order to fulfill any beneficent purposes.
(2) Wherever used in this chapter, or in any other statute or rule or regulation affecting the former Workmen’s Compensation Law and any of its functions or duties:
(a) The words “workmen’s compensation” shall mean “workers’ compensation”; and (b) The word “commission” shall mean the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
(3) The primary purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Law are to pay timely temporary and permanent disability benefits to every worker who legitimately suffers a work-related injury or occupational disease arising out of and in the course of his employment, to pay reasonable and necessary medical expenses resulting from the work-related injury or occupational disease, and to encourage the return to work of the worker.
What does all this really mean?Â It can best be described as the great â€œtrade off.â€Â Pain and suffering is out.Â Automatic benefits for those hurt at work are in regardless of fault.Â The system is a great benefit to those who are hurt in an accident not involving fault of the employer, but it may devastate the rights of a worker for whom the employer showed a flagrant disregard.
Although the law has been around for 60 years, it was tinkered with by the Mississippi legislature recently.Â One reason why these laws have been upheld is because of the â€œbeneficentâ€ purposes the Act purported to provide.Â Until July 1, 2012 the Act has repeatedly been interpreted to resolve doubt in favor of the injured worker.Â It is that socially beneficial purpose that lifted the Act above the reach of constitutional challenges.Â But the new language at the end of Paragraph (1) above may serve to bring the Act within the claws of a constitutional challenge.
Another new change to the Act comes at the end of paragraph (3) with the added purpose of returning the worker to work.Â While such a purpose is noble, it often is not so easy when a worker has limited education and skills, and an injury is so limiting as to prevent him from doing work.Â So the question becomes, does the Act still have the purpose of getting a totally disabled person back to work?
At the end of the day, most people agree that the original intent of the Act was to provide no fault benefits to injured workers, but the recent changes seem to bring that into question.Â One might argue that the new purpose of the Act is to save businesses money.Â Only time and the courts will tell whether such a purpose has any business (no pun intended, kinda) being a part of our Workersâ€™ compensation laws.
Rogen K. Chhabra