West Virginia likely to tap homeowners in VFD areas; California commissioner rejects increase; some companies get relaxed rules in NY
Following up on previous coverage of workers’ comp insurance for the many volunteer fire fighters in West Virginia, we see that homeowners are likely to be tapped one way or the other–either through increased rates for homeowners’ insurance in areas that lose VFDs, or more likely through–presumably–smaller fees for to make up the difference in premiums.
In other news, the insurance commissioner in California has rejected an increase in that state’s workers comp rate, and in New York some out-of-state businesses have won a years’ long round of lobbying that will ease restrictions for their work on occasional construction projects.
West Virgina homeowners face ‘token increase’
According to a Nov. 29 update at Firehouse.com, “Predictably there will be some squawking if and when the idea surfaces in new legislation, but West Virginia homeowners likely will be called on to pay a token increase to help volunteer fire units purchase workers’ compensation coverage.
“At least one issue that plagued the 400-plus departments in the state has been resolved — the matter of broadform coverage.”
The “broadform coverage” issue is huge in this state, where VFDs are the norm–only 12 (or 11, depending on who’s counting) are full-time fire departments, another 16 are a combination full-time and volunteer, and the rest (447) are volunteer outfits.
Governmental immunity for VFDs
A “special committee,” presumably the one assembled by former Gov. Joe Manchin (from which is due a report in December), helped determine that VFDs are covered by a governmental immunity provision.
“Put simply,” says the Firehouse account, “it means officers of volunteer units are shielded against lawsuits for sending members into risky situations which, for the most part, is where they go in the line of duty, explained Sam Love, a former VFD chief and now a lobbyist for the departments.
” ‘Volunteer Fire Insurance Services picked up broadform coverage for volunteers at a reasonable rate,’ Love said. ‘That part is settled.’ ”
What remains unsettled is who’s going to pay. Former carrier Brickhouse was all set to drop the coverage earlier this year but extended the deadline until next summer.
Without VFDs, many homeowners’ insurance rates ‘would soar’
” ‘Unfortunately, I think it’s going to go back to homeowners,’ Love said, referring to a possible increase in the 1.55 percent now paid and distributed among volunteers, paid firefighters’ pensions and the teachers retirement system.
” ‘This is the most equitable way to do it,’ Love said. ‘If not for the volunteers, God only knows what they would pay for insurance. The premiums would go through the roof.’
“Without the VFDs, he said, homeowners can expect their insurance rates to soar.”
Lame duck commish rejects rate hike–again
According to a Nov. 29 post at the Orange County Register, “Outgoing state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has turned down a request to increase basic workers’ compensation insurance premiums 27.7% starting Jan. 1.”
That’s three rejections in a row from Poizner, who also came out against the recommendation of the industry group Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau in 2009, when the group called for a 30 per cent hike for 2010.
Action not binding
However, Poizner’s action is not binding and another group has announced its own rate hike, albeit not as large as the other proposals: “Poizner’s action is merely advisory because the California Department of Insurance does not set workers’ comp rates. California’s largest workers’ comp insurer, the State Compensation Fund, has already announced that it will raise its overall rates 5.2% as of Jan. 1. The fund raised its premiums an average 5% in 2010.”
Cost saving measures ignored, says Poizner
In a Nov. 19 post at the Los Angeles Business Journal, Poizner indicated the insurance companies still have not implemented cost-cutting measures passed several years ago: “While acknowledging that medical costs for workers’ compensation claims are rising, Poizner said insurance companies have not implemented many of the cost-saving measures in the 2004 reforms passed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.
“ ‘Once again, workers’ compensation insurers have failed to demonstrate that they have adopted procedures to control costs or that they are operating efficiently,’ Poizner said. ‘It’s easier for the insurers to get together and argue that they need huge rate increases than for them to do the hard work of implementing cost savings.’
“In recent years, the average rate increase has been 3 to 4 percent, the commissioner’s office said.”
Some out-of-state businesses see eased requirements in New York
A Nov. 30 post at Insurance Journal says, “New York has eased some workers’ compensation insurance requirements for out-of-state businesses that do only occasional, non-construction work in the Empire State.
“The rule change comes after years of lobbying by agents and their trade groups in the state.”
Board lists findings in bulletin
A Nov. 22 bulletin from the state Workers’ Compensation Board lists its findings, saying that “the Board will only exercise its enforcement power in regard to the acquisition of such full statutory coverage for New York State against an out-of-state employer that meets any of the following criteria:
- The employer (as defined in the WCL) is required to register with the NYS Department of Labor and pay Unemployment Insurance for any period in question.
- The employer has a permanent physical location in New York or has employees whose primary work location is here.
- The employer is operating in New York under a permit, contract, or license granted by the State of New York, its counties or any municipality as defined under §57 of the Workers’ Compensation Law.
- The employer is working as a contractor/general contractor/subcontractor on a construction project in New York.
- In the previous year, the employer had employees physically in New York for at least 40 hours of every week for a period of longer than 2 consecutive weeks or had employees present in New York for 25 or more individual days (e.g.- 5 employees working for 5 days in New York equals 25 individual employee days). Employees traveling through the State not stopping for deliveries, pick-ups, or other work are not deemed to have worked a day here. An employer that has reason to know that it will meet these criteria in the current year, even if it has not done so in the prior year, must obtain the required coverage.”
The bulletin seem to leave the board an out, if necessary: “Upon inquiry by the Board as to an employer’s status, it is the employer’s responsibility to attest to the fact that they meet none of these conditions in order to avoid enforcement actions. In the event penalties are issued by the Board, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide documentation to the Board that none of the above conditions were met in order to have a penalty rescinded.”
Frequently enough, a worker’s compensation case may be so complex as to demand legal representation. However, sometimes what seems like a cut-and-dried situation to an injured worker may result in a smaller award than envisioned–or even a denial. Have you, a friend or a loved one been injured on the job? Whether you’re merely seeking answers about your rights or believe a lawsuit may be necessary, be sure to seek counsel with attorneys trained and experienced in workers’ compensation. Here’s some resources: