The Demolition of Workers’ Compensation - ProPublica
Dennis Whedbee’s crew was rushing to prepare an oil well for pumping on the Sweet Grass Woman lease site, a speck of dusty plains rich with crude in Mandaree, North Dakota.
It was getting late that September afternoon in 2012. Whedbee, a 50-year-old derrickhand, was helping another worker remove a pipe fitting on top of the well when it suddenly blew.
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Oil and sludge pressurized at more than 700 pounds per square inch tore into Whedbee’s body, ripping his left arm off just below the elbow. Coworkers jerry-rigged a tourniquet from a sweatshirt and a ratchet strap to stanch his bleeding and got his wife on the phone.
“Babe,’’ he said, “tell everyone I love them.”
It was exactly the sort of accident that workers’ compensation was designed for. Until recently, America’s workers could rely on a compact struck at the dawn of the Industrial Age: They would give up their right to sue. In exchange, if they were injured on the job, their employers would pay their medical bills and enough of their wages to help them get by while they recovered.
Workers’ Compensation Reforms by State
by Yue Qiu and Michael Grabell, ProPublica, Mar. 4, 2015
Over the past decade, states across the country have been unwinding a century-old compact with America’s workers: A guarantee that if you are injured on the job, your employer will pay your medical bills and enough of your wages to help you get by. In all, 33 states have passed laws that reduce benefits, create hurdles to getting medical care or make it more difficult to qualify for workers’ comp.
How Much Is Your Arm Worth? For Workers’ Compensation, That Depends on Where You Work - ProPublica
At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.
The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.
Over the past decade, states have slashed workers’ compensation benefits, denying injured workers help when they need it most and shifting the costs of workplace accidents to taxpayers.
Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.
After that, though, their paths couldn’t have diverged more sharply: Lewis received just $45,000 in workers’ compensation for the loss of his arm. Potter was awarded benefits that could surpass $740,000 over his lifetime.
The reason: Lewis lived and worked in Alabama, which has the nation’s lowest workers’ comp benefits for amputations. Potter had the comparative good fortune of losing his arm across the border in Georgia, which is far more generous when it comes to such catastrophic injuries.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits: How Much is a Limb Worth?
If you suffer a permanent injury on the job, you’re typically entitled to compensation for the damage to your body and your future lost wages. But depending on the state, benefits for the same body part can differ dramatically.
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“As part of our ongoing investigation, we invite you to tell us about your experience navigating the workers’ comp system. Have something we should look into?”
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