06/22/2013 // Hartford, CT, USA // cttriallawyers // Howard Schiller // (press release)
What many of you may not know is that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and employer groups got Texas to agree to be an “opt-out” state. This means employers can choose to opt out of the state workers compensation system should they choose. In such a situation the injured worker has the right to sue the employer in civil court and go after civil damages. After an accident (according to practitioners in Texas) most employers demand an injured worker sign a waiver of the right to civil damages in exchange for the employer picking up the medical bills as the injured worker has no way to pay for the medical bills while waiting to go to court.
Well, the plant in West, Texas which had a massive explosion leaving many killed, injured or homeless only had a $1 million dollar insurance policy and it looks like the employer/plant will file bankruptcy to avoid all damages and responsibility over the $1 million policy.
These are the things we have to remind our state legislatures of when they insist that industries be deregulated, regulations be relaxed or that states adopt a similar “opt-out” program. I doubt the injured workers in Texas will get full compensation. Even if the injured workers refuse to sign a waiver and instead go after the employer with other liability creditors, with a million-dollar policy their recovery will be minimal.
Talk about employer incentives to not follow or comply with safety rules!! Loosen the rules on safety, tell them they do not have to comply with all the alleged “red tape” of other states and then legally limit their liability in the case of a catastrophic event. After the event it was disclosed that the plant was only supposed to have 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate on site when it reportedly had over 60,000 pounds! There had not been an inspection in years. The chemicals were in a wooden building without sprinklers. There is no fire code in the county to assure proper storage. Yes, let’s deregulate some more and trust those that handle dangerous chemicals to do so responsibly.
Who ends up paying for this tragedy? The 15 first responders and workers killed, the more than 200 injured, their families, the town of West, Texas and taxpayers. The costs for employers’ failure to comply with safety rules are going to be borne by the ones least able to afford it and least culpable for the actions of the plant’s owners — while the very same owners walk away with their lives unharmed and unchanged.
Meanwhile, how many children will be going to bed tonight without their father or mother because of the explosion?
How many children are going to bed tonight not in their own room or bed because the explosion rendered the home uninhabitable or destroyed?
Nice system you got there, Texas.
Now Texas’ Gov. Perry is touring Connecticut extolling the virtues of the Texas system of laissez faire government and urging businesses to relocate their enterprises to Texas. I fervently hope our manufacturers are responsible and resist the siren’s call. Governmental regulations protect workers, businesses and the public.
Connecticut has a more comprehensive system for injured workers, but our employers are being challenged by Texas and other states to move there or change the system to compete. Connecticut has seen recent tragedy. Many first responders lack resources to help them cope with what they faced in Newtown because Connecticut eliminated coverage for “mental” injuries. Now we hear gun manufacturers are considering a move to Texas because we have gun control. The NRA decries any regulations. Connecticut must continue to move in the direction of safety for its citizens and require its manufacturers and employers to be responsible for the consequences of their activities. We must resist calls from business interests concerned only with the bottom line that we limit their responsibility and pass on consequences to workers, taxpayers and innocent victims.
It is time we stop the race to the bottom on safety and the rights of those injured. I got in trouble as a kid, and like most kids, I would use my friend as an excuse for my actions by stating, “well Johnny did it too.” My mom being older, wiser and a typical loving parent (plus a tough streetwise New Yorker) would respond by saying, “Well if Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn bridge, would you?”
It is time that legislators stop jumping off the bridge just because others will reduce safety regulations and limit the liability of wrongdoers at any cost to attract businesses. Enough is enough — do not jump off the Brooklyn Bridge just because Texas did.
Mom was right all along.
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