Missouri lawmakers have approved legislation to make it
harder to file workers’ compensation claims in the state. Truck drivers are
among those adversely affected.
Lawmakers from both the House and Senate spent several hours
in conference committee this past week working out differences in their
versions of the bill before heading home for spring break.
They reached agreement on the bill’s language March 16 and
forwarded it to Gov. Matt Blunt, who is expected to sign it.
The final version of the workers’ compensation legislation
includes a provision offered by Rep.
Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, specifically addressing a lawsuit brought forth
by OOIDA on behalf of owner-operators against a motor carrier based in
Springfield, MO. A separate suit previously resolved is also included.
The wording of
Stevenson’s amendment is as follows:
“In applying the
provisions … it is the intent of the legislature to reject and abrogate earlier
case law interpretations on the meaning of or definition of ‘owner,’ as
extended in the following cases: Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Ass’n.
Inc. v. New Prime, Inc., …; Nunn v. C.C. Midwest” …
The provision was
added in response to an earlier House vote on an amendment to strike language
that would have affected existing lawsuits against employers in the state.
offered by Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, removed wording that sought to
wipe out previous allegations of workers’ compensation violations from
employers, including motor carriers.
During debate last
month, senators dropped the provision from the bill only to have the language
reinserted by a House committee prior to debate before the full House.
more than 6,000 Missouri-based professional drivers, fought in both chambers to
have the wording removed from the bill.
association’s effort, supporters of the axed provision were successful at
slipping in the wording offered by Stevenson – essentially canceling out the
In the OOIDA case,
the Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District held that New Prime would have
to defend itself against a civil class-action lawsuit brought by the truckers’
group. The suit charges the motor carrier wrongfully required certain drivers
to purchase workers’ compensation coverage from it.
In March 2004, the
Missouri Court of Appeals rejected arguments by New Prime that certain
owner-operators fell outside the statutory definition of employee and that an
individual’s exclusive remedy was to go to the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation, not the courts.
OOIDA, along with
member Jeffrey Warta, filed the suit alleging New Prime engaged in a scheme by
which it deducted workers’ compensation premiums from drivers in violation of
Missouri law and, at the same time, considered itself the employer of the
drivers when a workers’ compensation claim was made.
The central issue of
the appeal dealt with whether Warta fell within the statutory definition of
employee. That definition specifically exempts drivers who own and operate a
efforts by OOIDA to clarify additional language in the bill relating to
independent drivers, the House opted to keep a Senate-approved provision that
would expand the definition of owner-operators who are currently exempt to
include lease-purchase operators and lease drivers who have no ownership
interest in the equipment they operate.
An amendment offered
by Pratt and Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, sought to spell out specifically how
the state’s workers’ compensation laws apply to owner-operators who are exempt
from those requirements.
Reps. Jay Wasson and
Steve Hunter, both Republicans, spoke against the provision during floor
Wasson, R-Nixa, said
the amendment would force companies to pay workers’ compensation. He said
companies that charge back the costs do it as a convenience to the driver and
to the owner of the truck. He described it as “good business.”
characterized the amendment simply as a competitive issue between one large
trucking company and another large trucking company.
86-71 against the Pratt and Meadows provision.
After the vote,
Pratt remained convinced the failed amendment was the right thing to pursue for
workers and Missouri public policy.
“I’m concerned other
trucking companies throughout Missouri will now feel they must use this process
to be competitive,” he said. “Ultimately, it will hurt the independent truck
executive vice president of OOIDA, found lawmakers actions troubling.
lawmakers that spoke against the amendment obscured the real issue.
Owner-operators and other independent contractors in Missouri aren’t required
to have workers’ compensation coverage. Workers’ comp is a benefit program
designed for employers and employees,” Spencer said.
benefits to injured workers and liability protection and other benefits to
employers. This isn’t a program that was ever designed for independent
operators, so very few ever buy it.
“When a motor
carrier or any other contractor requires an owner-operator to buy this coverage
through them and for the carriers protection, the carrier receives benefits for
which they haven’t paid and aren’t entitled. The carrier also creates the
employer/employee relationship that can land them in court, or worse.
“Elsewhere in the
bill, lawmakers took, in my opinion, wise steps to increase penalties for
noncompliance with workers’ comp laws. But, in this instance, lawmakers seem to
be inviting just the opposite.”
The bill would limit
the number of workers in the state eligible for compensation. It tightens the
definition of a workplace injury by requiring work to be “the prevailing
factor” for the injury. Current law says the injury must be “a substantial
factor.” People hurt traveling to and from work in a company-owned or
subsidized vehicle would no longer be eligible for compensation under the bill.
It also would allow
employers to require that employees use sick time or paid time off to recover
from a work-related injury, and it would require doctors to use only “objective” medical findings about a worker’s injury, not “subjective”
complaints about pain. In addition, the bill would require a “performance
review for state workers’ compensation judges every two years. At 12 years, the
judges would face re-approval by a review panel.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor