As reported by MissouriNet, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed Senate Bill 66 (HCS SS SCS SB 66) into effect on July 5, amending The Workers’ Compensation Law of Missouri in various ways designed to attract more businesses to Missouri.
The legislation worked its way through the Missouri legislature rather quietly and under the radar last spring, as labor, business and trial lawyer lobbies fought more loudly and more publicly over the so-called Right To Work measure, and legislation affecting the qualifications of expert witnesses in court cases, among others.
SB 66 (as is often the case in the recent history of Missouri’s workers’ compensation legislation) is in part a response to several recent court cases, notably Greer v. Sysco Food Services, 475 S.W.3d 655 (Mo. 2015).
SB 66 defines the term “maximum medical improvement” (“MMI”) for the first time for MO work comp cases, enacting language that, at first impression, differs little from the language discussed in Greer. MMI is a concept that first appeared in other states’ workers’ comp systems, and has slowly crept into Missouri, resulting in its formalization in SB 66.
Another provision of SB 66 makes it arguably easier for employers to enforce penalties against injured workers’ MO WC benefits in cases where a worker is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
SB 66 clarifies who qualifies for so-called Line of Duty benefits, for dependents of deceased “first responders”, and, perhaps more importantly, changes how death benefits for other deceased workers are divided up by their dependents.
A change that would seem to benefit Missouri employees more than employers requires certain emergency, or “hardship”, hearings to be held more quickly than previously.
A somewhat curious provision requires settlements to be based on the disability ratings of doctors selected by an injured worker’s employer under certain circumstances. There seems to be general agreement among attorneys practicing MO workers’ comp law that this measure will have little effect, except perhaps with some workers who do not hire lawyers to represent them in their Missouri work comp claims.
Perhaps most importantly, SB 66 reverses the 2014 Missouri Supreme Court case of Templemire v. W & M Welding, Inc., 433 S.W.3d 371 (Mo.banc 2014), and makes it much more difficult for an injured worker who has lost his or her job to sue a former employer for being fired in retaliation for bringing a MO workers’ comp claim. Templemire allowed such lawsuits when the worker’s exercise of his or her workers’ compensation rights was a contributing factor to being fired. The language in SB 66 now requires the exercise of the Missouri workers’ compensation rights to be the motivating factor and determinative influence in the firing.
As ever, the stakeholders in the Missouri workers’ compensation system won’t know exactly what is in SB 66 for several years, until courts like the courts in Greer and Templemire get a chance to review its language, and determine if the language of SB 66 actually does what the MO legislature intended it to do.