Governor should restore permanent disability compensation

As president of the California Applicants Attorneys Association, whose members represent Californians injured on the job, I hear the stories of injured California workers every day, not only in my own law practice, but also in many other contexts, as well.

I wish our governor could see the faces and hear the voices of the real-life Californians who are suffering due to on-the-job injuries. This morning, I joined injured workers Gary Hoag, Patricia Mendoza and Linda Vierling, in a Capitol news conference calling upon the governor to sign SB 936, which contains modest permanent disability compensation increases phased in over a three-year period. I know if he would meet Gary, Patricia and Linda, he would sign SB 936.

In 2004, in response to employers’ rapidly rising insurance costs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature enacted his SB 899. Under this governor’s workers’ compensation changes, insurance carriers are reaping the highest profits ever recorded. Employers have received substantial cuts in their premiums, as they should have. But injured workers have lost ground in a system that we knew was already inadequate. He promised his bill would not harm injured workers. But Gary, Patricia and Linda are being harmed by this administration’s permanent disability compensation changes, and SB 936 would help fix that.
Gary’s story illustrates the need for SB 936. Gary was a longtime CHP officer in the San Diego area. While investigating an accident on I-5, a second car plowed into Gary’s legs, pinning him, nearly severing one leg and changing his life forever. After multiple surgeries, Gary’s lucky to be alive, and lucky to still have some use of his legs, but unlucky to have been injured on the job in California. Because California has sunk to the bottom in the United States in how it treats injured cops, firefighters, teachers, nurses, correctional officers, retail salespersons and many others. Gary lost his career as a CHP officer the day they had to cut his uniform off after the accident. He walks with a limp, was forced into disability retirement and every step he takes is painful.

The permanent-disability compensation they receive is the only compensation injured workers will receive for losing their abilities to do many things in every day life, and for the pain that they will endure every day. The administration’s schedule awards Gary just $45,000, in payments of $270 a week. That’s all to last him for the rest of his life. If these Californians had been injured anyplace other than on their jobs, they would be compensated in far greater amounts for these injuries and their lifelong effects.

The governor said that when the evidence was in, if it showed deep cuts to injured workers he would move to correct the problem. Well, the evidence is in: multiple studies from several independent sources, including the insurance industry and the governor’s own Division of Workers Compensation, all show cuts of 50 percent to 70 percent. Four studies, including one by the insurance industry, have found the new regulations reduce compensation to permanently disabled workers by more than half. There is no reason to wait. The evidence is clear and overwhelming, and the need for action is urgent. Injured workers are losing their livelihoods, their cars, their homes and their dignity, along with their health.

It’s time to restore permanent disability compensation to injured workers. It’s time to re-establish some fairness and dignity for disabled workers and their families. Waiting any longer only continues to harm people like Gary, Patricia and Linda. I join them in calling upon the governor to sign SB 936.

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