Fisher's fight to revamp worker's comp half over

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Missouri State Rep. Barney Fisher, R-125, said Friday that two worker's compensation-related bills just passed by his House Committee on Workforce Development & Safety are the latest chapter in a power struggle between the Missouri General Assembly and the judiciary.

Fisher said House Bill 91, to protect employees from being sued by fellow employees for workplace accidents, would overturn last year's ruling by the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals to let an employee sue a fellow worker for letting go of a high pressure hose that blinded him in one eye.

Fisher said HB 162 would reverse St. Louis Circuit Court decisions that disqualified occupational diseases from worker's comp coverage. Thursday votes on the committee Fisher chairs were 12-0 on HB 91 and 8-4 on HB 162.

Predicting that the Republican-dominated House will pass both proposals, he said, "Robinson vs. Hooker not only undermined the intent of the General Assembly, it undermined the intent of worker's comp, which was never to drag co-workers into court. The part that worries labor unions is that shop stewards could be sued.

"The second ruling took occupational diseases out of worker's comp and put them into court and we're just putting them back where they were originally meant to be. Missouri is being described as a judicial hellhole because we keep getting adverse decisions from the courts."

Ascribing the trend to influence by the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, Fisher said, "The courts react to what we do and we react to what they do.

"The Senate has combined both measures into a single bill, but I separated them so that if Gov. Nixon vetos one, maybe the other will pass."

The Senate plan he referred to is SB 8 by Mount Vernon Republican Sen. Jack Goodman. HB 91 is sponsored by Gladstone Republican Rep. Jerry Nolte and HB 162 by Fisher.

This year's Jefferson City political makeup is 106 Republicans to 56 Democrats in the House and 26 Republicans to eight Democrats in the Senate, although Nixon is a Democrat.

Tracy King, governmental affairs vice president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce & Industry, had testified before Fisher's committee that "we can all agree that allowing employees to sue one another will create havoc in the workplace and is not good for the employees or employers.

"The court would open the floodgates to litigation by injured employees against co-workers."

King said the occupational diseases ruling in the HB 162-related case, Franklin vs. CertainTeed Corp., "leaves businesses vulnerable to increased claims through civil suits.

"At the same time, it will encourage frivolous suits and make the resolution of legitimate claims much more difficult."

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