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Wisconsin's Workers Compensation Program at Risk

A proposal to substantially change Wisconsin's model workers' compensation system is a solution in search of a problem, says the president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice. (matt_benoit/iStockPhoto.com)
A proposal to substantially change Wisconsin's model workers' compensation system is a solution in search of a problem, says the president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice. (matt_benoit/iStockPhoto.com)
January 11, 2016

STEVENS POINT, Wis. – In 1911, Wisconsin passed the nation's first worker's compensation program, and it has remained a model for other states to this day.

But legislation has been introduced to substantially change the system – a bill attorney Russ Golla says would tip the balance to strongly favor the employer.

Golla, president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, says the original legislation was passed because it represented compromise on both sides.

"The employees gave up the right to seek a jury of their peers and have them determine what is fair and reasonable compensation,” he explains. “And the employers gave up the fault system, which they could use to convince an employee to take substantially less through the fault system.”

Golla says the proposed legislation is a solution in search of a problem.

Supporters of the legislation say it will streamline the program and combat abuse.

But Golla says Wisconsin's Workers Compensation system already is considered the gold standard and is the envy of other states.

Golla points out by agreeing to substantially limit the employer's financial liability for workplace injuries, employees get the benefit of prompt medical care, disability pay for time off, and vocational training.

The system limits compensation for the loss of an arm or a leg to $161,000, and Golla asks if anyone would willingly give up an arm or leg for that amount.

"$161,000 for such a catastrophic injury shows you that this was a grand bargain, a big compromise between employers and employees to go to a no-fault system in exchange for substantial reduction in benefits," he states.

The legislation would take away the right of injured workers to choose their own health care providers and physicians, and replace it with the employer's choice.

Golla says that would give the employer control over the most important aspect of workers' compensation, destroying the balance built into the system.

Golla says there is plenty of solid evidence that Wisconsin's system is working very well just as is.

"The insurance rates are low, there's a lot of competition to insure employers in Wisconsin, Wisconsin has great return to work rates, so it seems to be working, by any objective measure," he states.


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI