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Alabama’s workers’ compensation law ruled unconstitutional

Big changes may soon be on the horizon for Alabama’s workers’ compensation system. Per AL.com, a circuit judge based in Jefferson County ruled one of the state’s existing workers’ compensation laws unconstitutional, and time will tell whether the ruling will be upheld by other courts and judges in the state.

Under the state’s current workers’ compensation law, those injured on the job cannot receive more than $220 per week in workers’ compensation benefits, and attorneys representing injured workers cannot claim more than 15 percent in attorney fees. Attorneys in the case noted that the $220 limit was set in 1987, at a time when the amount was appropriate, given the cost of living, poverty level and typical wages associated with that period. Nowadays, attorneys argued, the amount should be closer to $500.

Per Local15TV, Alabama’s employees already receive far lower workers’ compensation payouts than workers in any other state in the nation. For example, the national average amount of benefits received following an on-the-job broken arm is nearly $170,000, while in Alabama, the average amount received for the same injury is only $48,000.  Opponents to the existing rule argue that the $220 limit on workers’ compensation benefits in the state would mean workers were making less than minimum wage, and that it is therefore unconstitutional in that it would place recipients well below the poverty line.

Just how widespread the implications of the judge’s ruling are is yet to be determined, as the judge issued a 120-day stay for the ruling. Essentially, this means that if widespread changes are to take effect because of it, they will not do so for at least another 120 days. 

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