Arkansas Employers' Cost Rising in Death, Permanent Total Disability Cases

The upcoming Fall Forum of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission is likely to be lively because of several workers' compensation bills enacted this year by the state Legislature. The most notable one will more than double the total amount an employer or its insurance carrier has to pay in weekly benefits in cases of death or permanent total disability.

The commission's Web site, www.awcc.state.ar.us/index.html, summarizes several laws enacted this year that affect comp coverage. House Bill 2648 is the bill changing employers'/insurers' obligation in these severe worker casualty cases, and the bill's title indicates it was drafted to ensure the solvency of the state's Death and Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund. Currently, $75,000 is the maximum an employer or its insurance carrier must pay in benefits for injuries resulting in permanent total disability or death. But HB 2648 changes the cap for injuries occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2008. For them, the employer or its carrier must pay benefits "not to exceed three hundred twenty-five (325) times the maximum total disability rate" at the time of the injury. The commission said NCCI estimates the 2008 threshold will be approximately $170,000.

Another new law prohibits claims for second injuries after Jan. 1, 2008. In effect, the law eliminates the state's Second Injury Fund for claims made after that date. And a third new law allows sole proprietors to exclude themselves from workers' compensation coverage or waive their right to coverage or compensation for insurance purposes. Individuals who are eligible for this exclusion are not considered "employees" and are not required to obtain a certificate of non-coverage from the commission. Visit the commission's site for information about the Fall Forum (Sept. 6-7 in Hot Springs, Ark.).

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