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Insurer, employer can’t deny benefits to undocumented workers, p 2

Sat Aug 13th, 2011 on     Insurance Claims,    

We’re discussing a recent Florida appellate decision in a workers’ compensation case. The employer and insurance company primarily denied the claim because the worker was illegal at the time of his accident.

The worker had sustained life-changing injuries. He’d fallen from a roof, breaking his arm and foot. He had limited English, very little education, experience as a farmer, factory worker and construction worker, and, finally, he was undocumented.

The workers’ comp judge decided for the worker and granted him permanent total disability benefits until the “merit hearing.” The appeal followed, and the appellate court affirmed.

In its decision, this court — the First District Court of Florida’s appellate division — said that state lawmakers had “long recognized that although the employment of illegal aliens is prohibited by federal and state law, violation of these laws is an unfortunate reality.” As such, the court continued, it is only just that “the cost of injuries sustained by unlawful workers, being no less real than those suffered by lawful workers, should be borne by the industry giving rise to the risk (and best positioned to avoid the loss), not the general taxpaying public.”

The court acknowledged as well that the company’s argument that the claimant’s illegal status barred his claim didn’t hold water. If that were true, the court reasoned, then companies would only hire undocumented workers so they could avoid paying workers’ comp benefits altogether.

Employers and insurers, then, cannot shirk their responsibility to all workers, regardless of citizenship status.

The decision does not touch on the larger problem of illegal workers, of course, and nor do we. It is interesting to note, however, that one legislator refers to the legions of undocumented workers as “a black market of humans.” He adds that insurance companies shouldn’t have to bear the cost of workers’ comp claims. Those should go directly to the employer.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Florida Court Rules Illegal Workers Entitled to Workers’ Compensation,” Michael Adams, Aug. 11, 2011

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