What is a West Virginia workers life worth?
According to the West Virginia Legislature, as stated in the narrowly passed House Bill 3270, a worker’s life is worth $500,00 total. The bill in question is to amend the deliberate intent statute in workers compensation to limit noneconomic damages to $500,000. Pulling back this thin veil reveals that this bill is yet another attempt to cheat West Virginians by radical tort reform which caps awards to employees injured or killed from an employers willful violations of safety practices.
The most serious of these violations fall under the category of “willful intent”. This is when an employer knows of a safety issue and chooses to ignore it, intentionally putting workers at risk and placing profit over safety.
Advocates tout this as a necessary pro-business step that would bring West Virginia more in line with our neighboring states and decry the high price of workers compensation insurance as burdensome to small businesses in our state. Proponents of this legislation paint a broad and misleading picture of greedy, high flying attorneys who reap the rewards of large verdicts that enrich them and cheat the victim.
This bill would restrict victims attorneys to a 20% cap on fees from an award or settlement. Many injury attorneys spend much of their own money in investigation, forensic tests, and expert witnesses, relieving the victim of these burdens. These same lawyers know that they often go up against industry titans who keeps a large contingent of legal talent on staff.
Maybe the most galling fact of this bill is the five-hundred thousand dollar ($500,000) cap. This amount is PER OCCURENCE. In other words, if you and a buddy get killed in the same accident, the capped amount is split between all those affected. In other words, your family would get two hundred-fifty thousand dollars ($250,000) for your life.
Consider this, using the metrics this bill would mandate; the 51 workers killed in the Willow Island Cooling Tower Collapse on April 27th, 1978, would’ve been worth just a shade over nine Thousand-eight hundred dollars per workers. Upper Big Branch miners killed on April 5th, 2010, would’ve fared a little better at 17K apiece, since there were only 29 of them, but the 78 Consol #9 miners killed in Farmington on November 20th, 1968, would only be worth a little over six-thousand dollars each. Thirteen Hundred dollars would’ve been considered a large amount of money in 1906, if you were one of the 362 miners killed in the Monongha Mine Disaster, but still not enough for a widow to raise kids on, even back then. Of course if you were one of the unfortunate workers who helped dig the Hawks Nest Tunnel, your life would be worth a paltry five-hundred dollars, based on the estimate of a thousand men who died from breathing deadly silica.
This bill would also be applied to Black Lung compensation, something miners fought for decades to win.
A public hearing on this measure was held recently at the Capital and many testified for and against the measure. If you watch the testimony, you may even recognize a familiar face. To watch the hearing, click this link.
Life has always been cheap here in West Virginia, and laws were enacted to try to level that uneven ground. They were paid for by the blood and sweat of workers. The UMWA has come out against this bill, as has every organization that holds the lives of workers above shareholder value.
Anyone who has worked in any decent sized industry know that an employer will chance a half-million dollar settlement if he can run a wore out machine that has a replacement cost of four-million dollars for another year.
Here is a list of how each West Virginia Legislator voted in narrowly passing this anti-worker HB 3270. We urge you to write, call, and/or e-mail them to let them know that YOU stand with working West Virginians!
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