Workers' Compensation Act May Be Unconstitutional

A recent workers’ Compensation case from Jefferson County Alabama, may have huge implications to the entire Workers’ Compensation Act. In the case of Clower v. CVS Caremaker Corp., Judge Pat Ballard entered an Order that the $220 a week cap for compensation was unconstitutional because it creates separate classes of workers. Should $220 a week be fair to someone who earns $125,000 salary vs an employee who may make $10.00 per hour? The Court held it was hard to justify the statutory cap was constitutional.

Second, the Court ruled that the statutory fee of 15% for an attorney fee was unconstitutional. The attorney fee award became in the early 1920’s. Both of these issues were reviewed against other states with similar statutory awards.

As I sat and read the Order, I had some initial thoughts. First, yes, $220 is not adequate compensation for a highly compensated employee to receive if they are receiving workers’ compensation disability benefits. Second, why had it not been challenged until now? Why should attorney fees be capped for a workers’ compensation case?

The $220 wage has been in place since 1987. Surely, with costs of inflation and rising salaries, this number should be adjusted as well. Child support guidelines were not adjusted for inflation in Alabama until about 7 years ago.

The attorney fees awarded for a workers’ compensation should be fair for both the injured worker and the lawyer who works on the case. How can the state justify a lawyer who may work on a case for 200 hours and receive a low compensation award due to the nature of the injury? Also, what if a lawyer works on a case for only 40 hours and receives 15% of a six figure settlement, these are rare but possible outcomes.

This Order will not become law for 120 days. It will be interesting to see if the Alabama Legislature looks at this issue.

If you are injured on the job, contact Ingram Law LLC at (205) 236-3997.

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