German Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck is credited with saying that “People who enjoy eating sausage and obey the law should not watch either being made.” Sometimes the compromise inherent in politics can produce less than perfect results. The same is true in the area of workers’ compensation law. Often when advocates for workers suggest modest changes to the law, they are met with proposed changes that would strip away even the limited rights that currently exist. An example of legislative compromise in this area illustrates the point. It is a felony to make a fraudulent claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Ala. Code § 13A-11-124 provides that “[a]ny person who makes or causes to be made any knowingly false or fraudulent material statement or material representation for the purpose of obtaining compensation, as defined in Section 25-5-1(1), as amended, for himself or herself or any other person is guilty of a class C felony.” The original bill on this topic would have provided in essence that anyone who made false or fraudulent statements having anything to do with claims for workers’ compensation benefits is guilty of a felony. The original bill would have covered not just employees, but also employers, insurance adjusters, doctors, therapist, attorneys, rehab nurses, vocational experts, etc. In the compromise that resulted in our current law, only employees are covered.
Clearly, the current Workers’ Compensation Act provides far superior benefits for injured workers than what was available to our workforce 85 years ago. However, the workers in this State deserve our continued efforts at obtaining legislative changes to those areas of the Act that are outdated, unfair or otherwise fail to adequately protect injured workers. Perhaps it all depends on whose ox is gored. Attorneys who represent injured workers are the only voice for those workers and we need to try to make a difference and improve our clients’ position.
Alabama still struggles to overcome a national reputation for being slow to change and for being anything but progressive. However, Alabama is one of the top five states for doing business, in large part because of our quality workforce. Plant Sites and Parks Magazine, as cited by an Alabama Development Office news release. It is time for the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to be amended in order that the law accomplish its beneficent purposes. In doing so, Alabama could come closer to meeting the stated goals of the Act by providing better job opportunities and increased employment for people in this State and by taking adequate care of the workforce that continues to make Alabama’s economy capture the attention of the rest of the nation. www.southern.org; and Ala. Code § 25-5-14.