New York sees some workers’ comp law changes in 2013 legislative session

Workers' compensation is the system set up in some form in every U.S. state to pay benefits to employees who are injured on the job or who contract work-related illnesses. In addition, workers' comp often provides death benefits to survivors.

Workers' compensation is a so-called no-fault system. It does not in most situations matter who caused the work injury or sickness. Exceptions in New York may apply when alcohol or drugs are involved or when injury is intentionally caused.

New York's workers' compensation scheme, like those of other states, is the exclusive remedy for almost all employment-related harm. Only in a very narrow set of circumstances might a claimant be allowed to bring a separate lawsuit. New York workers' comp benefits may include cash payments for wage replacement, medical bill coverage and rehabilitation.

In exchange for the limitation on worker rights, employers must either buy insurance or become self-insured in order to pay employees' workers' compensation claims.

The agency that administers workers' comp is the New York State Workers' Compensation Board, including a system of review and appeal of individual claim decisions that can ultimately be appealed to the state court system.

2013 legislative developments

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for certain changes to how the expensive workers' comp system works and is funded, and many of his reforms were passed as part of the 2013 budget bill. In a news release, he claimed that the reforms will save employers $800 million.

Although Gov. Cuomo promoted his workers' comp agenda as pro-business and cost cutting at a time of economic challenge, one change that benefits the poorest workers was an increase in weekly minimum benefits from $100 to $150 effective May 1, 2013.

In addition, the compensation laws governing volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers were amended to change references to surviving husbands or wives to surviving spouses, reflecting the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

Several changes dealt with complicated funding and administration issues affecting mainly the Board, insurers and employers. For example:

  • Formulas and procedures for monetary assessments against insurers and employers will be greatly simplified in 2014.
  • Bonds will be issued to cover defaults by trusts set up to cover claims for those employers who are self-insured. The bonding will take financial pressure off those otherwise-liable employers.
  • Single arbitrators will be able to hear small disputed claims, rather than requiring their resolution by more expensive three-member panels.
  • And more

Legal assistance

Workers' compensation law in New York is complex and anyone injured or sickened on the job should talk to an experienced and knowledgeable workers' comp attorney to understand his or her rights and options under the law. A work injury lawyer can fight for the benefits to which such a workers' compensation claimant is entitled.