Alabama Workers' Compensation Act Ruled Unconstitutional | Belt, Bruner & Barnett

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Recent Court Ruling Finds Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act Unconstitutional

Jun 16, 2017 | Workplace accidents

The workers’ compensation system in the state of Alabama can be challenging and sometimes quite complex to navigate. A recent court ruling found the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to be unconstitutional. However, a final decision on the matter is on hold. In the meantime, Alabama workers’ compensation lawyers will still be able to help clients who need to take advantage of the state’s workers’ compensation laws.

If you’re facing some difficulties with your workers’ compensation claim, you don’t want to fight the system alone. Instead, count on an experienced work injury lawyer at Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. to fight on your behalf to achieve the maximum possible compensation to which you may be entitled. With more than six decades of combined experience, our team is here to fight vigorously for you.

Call us today at (205) 933-1500 to set up a free consultation.

Workers’ Compensation Act Found to be Unconstitutional

At face value, a recent ruling tendered by the state of Florida, as well as a successive ruling by a Circuit Court Judge in the state of Alabama seemed to completely nullify Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act. This seemed plausible—but, since the Alabama ruling occurred immediately preceding the legislative break, it actually may be some time before the final verdict on the Act is determined.

The judge in Alabama who issued the ruling on May 8, 2017, declaring the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act unconstitutional, issued an indefinite stay on his initial ruling only nine days later. The effect was to leave the current state workers’ comp system in place until the judge either withdraws his stay or the Alabama legislature enacts reforms to address the issues brought to light by the judge’s original ruling.

The Alabama court case in question is Nora Clower vs. CVS Caremark. As an employee of CVS, Clower suffered a back injury while on the job that resulted in a permanent disability. However, had Clower incurred a partial temporary disability (PTD), or a total temporary disability (TTD), her rightful compensation would have been scored according to the state of Alabama’s average weekly wage. However, since she suffered a permanent partial disability (PPD), her compensation was limited to $220 per week – a level in state law that had not been modified since 1987.

The argument put forth by Clower was that this compensation limit constituted a violation of her right to equal protection under the law. In fact, the attorneys representing Clower argued successfully that the $220 per week did not meet current cost of living standards.

Pat Ballard, Circuit Court Judge in Jefferson County agreed with the plaintiff, Nora Clower, in this case and ruled that the existing Workers’ Compensation Act actually created two distinct groups of injured workers who were being treated differently for no legitimate reason. According to the judge, this flaw in the Act violates the Constitution of Alabama (Article one, Section 13), as well as the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which guarantees equal protection.

The case brought by Clower also challenged the state of Alabama’s cap on attorneys’ fees which was set at 15 percent. The ground of this challenge was that this violated the rights of injured workers to due process. The Castellanos decision in Florida confronted the same issue with the court ruling there that the mandatory fee schedules for attorneys violated due process as afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

Original Ruling – 120 Day Stay

On May 8, Judge Ballard issued a 120 day stay on his ruling regarding the Workers’ Compensation Act in order to allow the Alabama state legislature an opportunity to pass reforms to the existing law. However, since the legislative session was to end on May 22, it became apparent to many that lawmakers would not address the issue this year. This fact alone left doubt in the minds of many about where this left the state’s existing workers’ compensation system and those who would continue to require remedies under the law.

Revised Ruling – Indefinite Stay

With the above considerations in mind, Judge Ballard issued a revised order on May 17, 2017, to stay his previous decision indefinitely. Judge Ballard’s initial decision on May 8 was received with considerable concern regarding how the state’s workers’ compensation system would be affected. However, experts in the law concluded that the decision, having been issued at the county level rather than at the appellate or state court level, would only provide jurisdiction in the Clower case specifically, and not to other workers’ compensation cases across the state. In fact, the ruling would probably have to be appealed by CVS with the appellate court weighing in on the decision in order for jurisdiction to extend beyond the single Alabama district.

Judge Ballard indicated that in the interim period all workers’ compensation claims in Alabama would be handled according to current state law. He also indicated that additional legal action by any party, any state legislative action, or the from the court’s determination that the legislature is unable or unwilling to act to resolve the insufficiencies in the law, that the court reserves the right to issue any order deemed necessary to re-implement the terms of its prior order on May 8, 2017.

Contact Experienced Alabama Workers’ Compensation Lawyers

The workers’ compensation system in Alabama can be difficult to understand and navigate without experienced legal guidance. If you’re facing difficulty getting your workers’ comp claim approved, or you simply need help filing a claim, contact the experienced Alabama workers’ compensation attorneys at Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. today. Our team is here to help you collect the compensation to which you are entitled for your work injuries.

Call us today at (205) 933-1500 to request a free, no-obligation consultation.