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Is Alabama Workers Compensation Unconstitutional?4 minute read

Many of my clients complain about the fairness of Georgia’s workers compensation laws.  From my perspective, those laws definitely favor employers and insurance companies instead of injured workers.

Each state has its own workers compensation system.  State legislatures usually create these systems by passing a set of laws known as a workers compensation act.

Alabama’s workers compensation act came under attack recently.  An injured worker filed a lawsuit claiming that Alabama workers compensation was unconstitutional.  Now, an Alabama Circuit Court judge has found that the Alabama workers compensation act is unconstitutional.

Before reading further, you should understand that this finding does not go into effect immediately.  Also, the decision may be appealed.  If that happens, a higher Alabama court could make the final decision about the constitutionality of the Alabama workers compensation system.

Courthouse

What does the Constitution require of a workers compensation system?

In the United States, there are a number of different constitutions.  Most people think about the Constitution of the United States.  That constitution covers all states.

But, states also have their own constitutions.  These constitutions cover actions and laws within the states.  You can read the Alabama constitution here.  Georgia’s constitution is available here.

Each of these documents spells out a number of different rules.  You might think about a constitution like a trump card.  Laws cannot conflict with the rules put in place by the constitution.

How can a workers compensation system be unconstitutional?

As I mentioned earlier, state workers compensation acts are a set of laws.  The legislative branch of the state’s government passes those laws.

When someone contends that a law or set of laws conflicts with that state’s constitution or the U.S. Constitution, that person can file a lawsuit.  A court then makes a decision on whether the laws is constitutional or unconstitutional.  If the court finds that the law is unconstitutional, it will essentially strike the law down.

In the case which recently decided that the Alabama workers compensation law was unconstitutional, the Alabama circuit court primarily examined a couple of parts of Alabama’s workers compensation law:

  • The $220 per week permanent partial disability benefit
  • The capping of attorney’s fees at 15 percent

The circuit court judge held that these parts of Alabama’s workers compensation law failed to comply with the constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection.  As a result, the circuit court judge declared the workers compensation act unconstitutional.

Judge writing on paperWhat about Georgia’s workers compensation system?

Georgia has a different set of workers compensation laws than Alabama.  For one thing, Georgia’s permanent partial disability benefits vary depending on an injured worker’s average weekly wage.

So, injured workers in Georgia who have a higher wage will draw more per week in permanent partial disability benefits than an injured worker who has a lower wage.

Does Georgia have limits on workers compensation attorneys fees?

Regarding attorney’s fees, Georgia’s law is somewhat similar to Alabama’s.  Georgia has a percentage cap on attorneys fees.  Currently, the legislature has set the percentage in Georgia at 25 percent.  Also, the law in Georgia only allows attorneys to receive an attorney’s fee out of weekly indemnity benefits or settlement.

So, why does this matter to injured workers?  It restricts an injured worker’s freedom to contract.  As a result, some injured workers find themselves in a situation where they cannot get an attorney to take their case.

Why does this happen? Suppose that they passed a law saying that the most restaurants could charge for a hamburger is fifty cents.  While this may sound great, we would quickly find out that businesses would just stop selling hamburgers because they could not get paid a fair amount for their product.

Worried couple looking at billsAttorneys fees can work much the same way.  If attorneys handling workers compensation cases cannot charge enough for the work they do, they will simply choose not to take cases.  They may simply decide not to take any workers compensation cases at all.  Ultimately, this restriction harms injured workers if there are not good attorneys to represent them.

Have other states declared their workers compensation laws unconstitutional?

Yes.  Some other states have declared their workers compensation laws unconstitutional.  Florida, another Georgia neighbor, had part of its workers compensation system declared unconstitutional by its supreme court in 2016.

What effect will the Alabama workers compensation decision have?

It is too early to say.  In the decision, the circuit court judge recognized that having the law declared unconstitutional could cause major confusion for doctors, injured workers, employers, and insurance companies.

Because of that, the judge placed a 120 day stay in the order to give the Alabama legislature an opportunity to fix the problem.  Hopefully, they will address these problems and pass workers compensation law that are more fair to injured workers.

Even if the Alabama legislature does not fix the problem, the circuit court decision could be appealed.  If it is appealed, an appellate court will review it and make a decision about whether they agree that Alabama’s workers compensation act is unconstitutional.

What if I have other questions about workers compensation?

Georgia’s workers compensation system can be very confusing.  You have to worry about getting the treatment you need and paying your bills while also worrying about not missing any deadlines that could cause you to lose your right to receive workers compensation benefits.

If you have questions, I would recommend that you try to get answers.  To find out more about how to schedule a time to talk to me about your workers compensation questions, just read this short article.

Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers.  He regularly publishes videos and write blog articles about Georgia’s workers compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.

To be notified of Jason’s new workers compensation videos, subscribe to his Georgia Workers Compensation Video Series channel on YouTube by clicking the subscribe button below.

Brittney-lee orourkeBrittney-lee orourke
05:23 18 Feb 22
Amazing! Jason and his team were very helpful and had the best communication by far. Walked me though every step with great detail and had answers for any question I had. They handled my case better then I could imagine, it was a weird case and they stayed on top of it and kept me updated every step of the way! Highly recommend this Team! Thanks so much to Jason and his Awesome team!-Brittney
China JonesChina Jones
18:58 08 Feb 22
I absolutely love this group of attorneys, when I was at my lowest they did everything they could to help me get justice for my injury. I believe if I were to have never picked my phone up and called the amazing group that helped me I definitely would not have received my idea of rights. If you have an issue and are just not sure please understand that they will help you, stay in contact, answer any question you have, and for sure get you the justice you deserve I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I will definitely refer them to anyone who has been hurt because they most definitely care about their work and clients.
Luv LocsLuv Locs
16:08 15 Jan 22
The entire law office was attentive and responsive to all of my concerns dealing with my workers compensation case.
moombimoombi
21:14 02 Jan 22
If you must get a lawyer involved, you’d do well to work with Jason Perkins and his team at Perkins Studdard Law.They were thorough in gathering information and in sharing all the steps in the workers comp process specific to my case. Jason and the team were responsive to my bevy of questions and concerns.I appreciated the informative videos and consultations provided by Jason over video meetings and multiple phone calls.I hope I’m never injured on the job again. However, if I am and if my employer responds as my previous employer did, I’ll contact Perkins Studdard Law immediately to handle the case.
Dana BessDana Bess
23:57 10 Dec 21
Everyone at Perkins Studdard was kind and professional. They were always extremely responsive and answered all questions that I had and followed up to make sure I had an understanding of what was going on along with emailing videos to explain every step of my case so I would know what to expect and be prepared. Jason is a very genuine person and I trusted him with my case. He answered so many questions for me even before I retained him as my WC lawyer. I highly recommend him and his associates at Perkins Studdard.
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