Workers’ compensation insurance covers the cost of medical care and rehabilitation for workers injured on the job. It also compensates them for lost wages and provides death benefits for their dependents if they are killed in work-related accidents, including terrorist attacks. The workers’ compensation system is the “exclusive remedy” for on-the-job injuries suffered by employees. As part of the social contract embedded in West Virginia law, the employee gives up the right to sue the employer for injuries caused by the employer’s negligence and in return receives workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who or what caused the accident, as long as it happened in the workplace as a result of and in the course of workplace activities.
Workers’ compensation systems vary from state to state. State statutes and court decisions control many aspects, including the handling of claims, the evaluation of impairment and settlement of disputes, the amount of benefits injured workers receive and the strategies used to control costs. From 2008 to 2009, maximum income benefits for total disability increased an average 3.67 percent. The average maximum weekly benefit in 2009 was $763.16, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2009 Analysis of Workers’ Compensation Laws.
Workers’ compensation costs are one of the many factors that influence businesses to expand or relocate in a state that’s generating jobs. When premiums rise sharply, legislators often call for reforms. The last round of widespread reform legislation started in the late 1980s. In general, the reforms enabled employers and insurers to better control medical care costs through coordination and oversight of the treatment plan and return-to-work process. They also helped improve workplace safety. Some states are now approaching a crisis once again as new problems arise.