Partner Jerry Lehocky was a guest speaker at the Pennsylvania Self Insurers Association (PSIA) Regional Meeting in Lansdale, PA on Friday, September 23, 2016. Established in 1922, the PSIA provides workers’ compensation insurance coverage for a select group of Pennsylvania employers. Organizers of the regional meeting invited Jerry to represent workers’ interests as part of an open dialogue about workers’ compensation insurance, with presentations from a variety of stakeholder groups in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system. Other attendees included the PSIA leadership, self-insured employers and workers’ compensation defense attorneys.
Jerry offered an invaluable perspective of the workers’ compensation system to the PSIA meeting attendees. In his opening remarks, Jerry said, “Some would say I am going into the lion’s den by being here today. But, I don’t see it that way. I see it as an opportunity to have honest dialogue and truly listen to each other, and learn something from each other. The most important thing about those of us involved in the worker’s compensation system is that we strive to uphold justice, whichever side that is on.”
Jerry began his speech with a brief introduction to ‘The Great Tradeoff’ in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation, in which citizens gave up a constitutional right to sue for damages after a work injury in the 1915 Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. In return, workers were guaranteed payment for lost wages and medical expenses, while their employers were freed from defending negligence actions in civil courts and avoidance of pain and suffering awards. In the 100 years since the Act’s enactment, the letter of the law has remained the same, but the interpretation has changed at the expense of the worker.
Instead of a formal presentation, Jerry elected to make the remainder of his speech a Q&A session, with attendees encouraged to ask questions about workers’ compensation from the claimant perspective that were meaningful to them. Jerry emphasized the importance of fairness and openness in the system. In the present day, the humanitarian nature of the Workers’ Compensation Act has been eroded and the balance has swung drastically away from the injured worker. Costs have shifted from the responsible party – the employer and insurance carrier – to the injured worker, their health insurance company and the government. His responses were frank and open and provided the audience with strong insight into what it is like to stand in the shoes of an injured worker.
Discussion also covered the recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, which outlawed workers’ compensation opt-out provisions for employers. State opt-out provisions have had a devastating effect on injured workers and their families, with large companies like Dillard’s, Nordstrom, and Costco in states including Texas and Florida opting out of the state enforced workers’ compensation system for programs that offer less coverage for injured workers’ wage loss benefits and medical bills. The meeting closed with a review of recent Pennsylvania workers’ compensation bills, and Jerry spoke about how current legislation serves to underline areas where the Act remains blatantly unfair.