Debate about voluntary workers’ comp system heats up

Candidates for governor differ on the need for reform

A number of recent articles in the media are putting the spotlight on Texas' unique workers' compensation system, according to the Texas Tribune. Texas is the only state that currently does not require private employers to carry workers' compensation insurance or a private equivalent for their employees, meaning that over half a million Texan workers are currently uncovered if they are injured at work. The issue has come up in the race for the state's governorship, with the two main candidates offering very different perspectives on how to deal with the system.

A dangerous system

As the New York Times recently reported, the Texas economy has grown substantially in recent years, with state lawmakers largely attributing that growth to lax regulations and pro-business laws. However, behind the so-called 'Texas Miracle' is concern about the state's dire work safety record. In seven of the last ten years, Texas has recorded more worker fatalities that any other state.

Additionally, because many workers have no workers' compensation coverage, they are not entitled to any automatic benefits if they are killed or injured on the job. Even workers who are covered may find their claims denied or employers and insurers who will do anything to avoid providing benefits to an injured worker.

Governor candidates weigh in

The issue has come up in the political realm, as well. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, says that he will do little to change the current system. Abbott claims that even if workers are not insured they can still sue their employer in order to gain financial compensation. He noted that the threat of injury lawsuits has led many employers to opt for workers' compensation insurance despite the voluntary nature of the program.

Meanwhile, the campaign for Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, who is Abbot's main opponent, has said that workers' compensation is "essential," although it would not say whether Davis would work to make such compensation mandatory for employers. The campaign did say, however, that it would work "to restore the basic legal protections" that workers lost under previous court rulings.

Understanding workers' compensation

Texas' workers' compensation system is unique in the nation and can be extremely difficult to navigate. Injured workers, whether they are insured or not, will often have to contend with a complicated legal process and with employers or insurers who will often try to avoid compensating workers for their injuries.

Anybody who has been injured on the job in Texas should contact a personal injury lawyer who has plenty of experience with the state's workers' compensation rules and regulations. Only with qualified legal experience will injured workers have somebody fighting on their side for the compensation an injured worker deserves.