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Legislature approves controversial changes to Maine workers’ compensation law

Yesterday, the Maine Senate joined the House to approve a controversial measure that overhauls the state’s workers’ compensation system, with major impacts on injured workers. The overhaul comes at a time when insurance rates for Maine businesses are down and MEMIC, the state’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, recently paid a substantial dividend. The vote was 19-16: strict party-line.

The main elements of the program overhaul include:

• Altered eligibility requirements and the creation of a 10-year cap on benefits for employees who are permanently impaired with partial incapacity.

• The elimination of a requirement that employers must continue paying benefits during an appeal of a decision favorable to the employee.

• A new appeals divisions with authority to create rules of procedure.

• A shortened time period in which a notice of injury must be given, from 90 days to 30 days.

• A changed maximum benefit, from 80 percent of an employee’s net weekly wages to 66 percent of gross weekly wages.

The overhaul is prospective, i.e. all workers currently in the system are exempt from the changes.

Senate Democrats harshly criticize the changes as eliminating benefits for the most severely injured workers and creating a windfall for employers and insurance companies. The current law has a safety net that provides benefits for the duration of disability for severely injured employees who experience permanent loss of earnings. The new law eliminates that safety net and caps benefits for almost all injured workers at 10 years even if their injury results in permanent earnings loss or prevents them from returning to work.

The new law does soften the landing for permanently impaired workers who would lose benefits after 10 years and also requires consideration of psychological work capacity in assessing an employee’s earning potential.

If you have been injured at work, call Maine Employee Rights Group at 1-800-596-0662 for a free telephone consultation today.