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Courthouse Door Slammed Shut for Workers

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that an injured worker can be forced to accept an offer from a third-party if his employer's worker's compensation carrier wants to accept the deal, even if the injured worker wants to try to the case in court.

I was interviewed by Work Comp Central regarding that claim.

I labeled the decision a travesty, indicating it diminished the right of all workers in Wisconsin who, for over 100 years had an unfettered right to sue a third party. This case, Adams v Northland, reverses that. I was dismayed because the decision indicates the worker's compensation insurer can call the shots and take a deal the worker finds unacceptable. Essentially, the worker's compensation insurance carrier should stand in the shoes of the injured worker. This case allows the insurance carrier not only to stand in its own shoes but to throw away the worker's shoes.

The worker's compensation insurance carrier had paid about $150,000 to Adams in medical benefits and compensation after he injured himself while driving a snowplow for the Village of Fontana. He hurt his neck and spine when his head struck the cab ceiling. He sued the Northland Equipment Company for putting in the wrong shock-absorbing springs on the plow, which he says would have precluded his injury.

Northland offered to pay $200,000 to settle Adams' claim and the worker's compensation insurance carrier asked a judge to compel Adams to accept this settlement. The Judge did so and the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court affirmed that Judge's decision. Justices Bradley and Abrahamson dissented, indicating there was nothing in the deal struck in 1911 when workers gave up their right to sue their employers suggesting that workers would also give up their right to sue a negligent third party. This decision essentially takes away the right of an injured worker to proceed to trial against the negligent third party if the employer's worker's compensation insurance carrier wants to settle.

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