Injured Workers Wait for Supreme Court Decision

By Gerri L. Elder

Injured workers in Missouri are waiting for the state Supreme Court to make a decision. They’ve been waiting for over a year.

Just after Thanksgiving 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of a law making it more difficult for injured workers to collect workers' compensation benefits. Since that time, injured workers, their personal injury lawyers and their employers have been anxiously awaiting the seven justices' decision.

According to an Associated Press analysis of 182 opinions issued by the court in 2007 and 2008, this decision has already taken four times as long to decide as the average case. However, the Supreme Court will not give any indication as to why this particular case is taking so long to decide.

How it works: the court hears legal arguments and then the justices convene privately to discuss the case and assign a justice to write an opinion. During this process, the assigned author is not revealed and no updates are provided on the deliberations.

The Associated Press reported that in a written response to questions about the delay in the decision on the workers' compensation case, Beth Riggert, an attorney who serves as a spokesperson for the court, said that the court strives to decide cases as quickly as possible.

However, Riggert noted that cases that come before the Supreme Court involve complex legal issues. She said the court would take as much time as it finds necessary to consider all legal issues raised in order to reach a decision.

The workers' compensation system in Missouri was established in 1926 to resolve on-the-job injury claims through administrative proceedings rather than the courts. The system was intended to provide aid more quickly to injured workers while sparing employers the expense and uncertainties of trials.

The case the court is currently deciding revolves around a 2005 law requiring workers to show a "specific event during a single work shift" caused the injury in order to receive compensation for an accident. The law excluded injuries caused by "a series of events" from qualifying as a workers' compensation injury.

Prior to the 2005 law, a person's employment only needed to be a substantial factor in an injury in order for the worker to file a workers' compensation claim. The law tightened the standard and required the work-related accident to be the "prevailing factor" in an injury.

Personal injury lawyers in Missouri have been speculating for the past year about the outcome of the case. Some injured workers in Missouri have been waiting for the Supreme Court decision to help them decide whether to pursue their workers' compensation cases or file civil lawsuits. Many lives hang in limbo as the court carefully considers the validity of the 2005 workers’ compensation law.

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