Noteworthy Bills Regarding Workers’ Compensation Likely to be Revisited in the 84th Legislative Session

Here are all other workers’ compensation related bills that failed to become law. Many are noteworthy and are likely to be revisited in the 84th legislative session. HB1155 would have broadened those benefits subject to termination when the Claimant failed to submit to a designated doctor examination without good cause. HB 1424 would have limited governmental immunity in actions brought by first responders under the anti-discrimination section, §451.001 of the Texas Labor Code.

HB1430, HB 1697, and SB 1205 initiated by CLEAT, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, was a bill of interest to me. My client, Leigh Anne Snyder, a Longview, Texas police officer injured in the course of duty, testified in favour of this bill. Leigh Ann was hit by a drunk driver while on patrol and suffered significant orthopedic injuries. Her case was made worse by her employer, who brought internal affairs charges against her for failing to return to full duty work within one calendar year. The purpose of the bill was to give extra protection to first responders – basically prohibiting a municipality from terminating the employee before maximum medical improvement is reached. As you would expect, the bill saw significant opposition and failed to make it out of committee.1

Other bills of interest which failed to become law were HB 1468, and its companion SB 926. The issue came about from the Texas Supreme Court case In Re XL Specialty Insurance Company, 373 S.W.3d 46 (Tx. 2012). The court held that an adjuster waived attorney-client privilege by sharing the defence attorney’s communication with the insured employer – not an uncommon practice. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the attorney then became discoverable (and admissible) in a bad faith lawsuit. This bill never gained traction, in my opinion because WC bad faith is no longer a concern for Texas insurers.

HB 1833, and its companion SB 907 were closely observed by the insurance industry. The House bill was unanimously passed by the Insurance Committee, but failed to make it to a vote in the House. The bill would convert Texas Mutual Insurance Company to a private mutual insurance company. It would establish an assigned risk program to the other insurers writing policies in Texas. By way of background, the 72nd legislature in 1991, created the Texas Workers’ Compensation Fund to guarantee the availability of insurance to Texas subscribers. The fund served as the insurer of last resort. In 2001, the 77th legislature changed the company’s name to Texas Mutual Insurance Company. It authorized TMI to operate as a domestic mutual insurance company owned by policyholders and removed the company from Sunset Review and attorney general oversight. In 2003, the 78th legislature removed TMI from oversight of the state auditor, and in 2007, the 80th legislature made the company exempt from open meetings and open records requirements. The bill would have finally privatized Texas Mutual as any other mutual insurance company under Texas Insurance Code Chapter 883. Proponents of the bill argued that more control would be given to policyholders while insulating TMI from dynamics of the political system. Opponents pointed to decreasing injury rates and medical costs and claimed changes would therefore be unnecessary. I have no doubt this will be addressed in our next legislative session.

HB 2660 was of particular interest to Claimant attorneys. It prohibited a party from calling an expert to testify at a contested case hearing if a report was not provided prior to the hearing. Presumably, this was to address those carrier that identify several potential experts, then bring one to testify telephonically, without giving prior notice to the claimant as to the nature and basis of the opinion. This bill wasn’t even debated in committee, and died without consideration.

HB 2787 was widely supported by labor and CLEAT. It provided that the carrier must pay the attorney fees of a claimant that prevailed on judicial review of a medical fee dispute. The purpose of the bill was to ensure representation of injured workers in judicial review of an issue not pertaining to income benefits. The bill was unanimously voted out of the Business and Industry committee but failed to make it on the house calendar.

HB 3280 was presumably offered by the provider industry. The law presently allows private collection of a health care bill once the claim is finally adjudicated as non-compensable. This law would have allowed a private collection cause of action against a claimant if he did not request dispute resolution within forty-five days of receipt of a denial. The bill did not make it out of committee.

HB 3310, and its companion SB 1020, offered by labour, required nonsubscribers to purchase life insurance policies, for the benefit of the family, in the amount of $200,000.00. It made little headway.

SB 1049 attempted to overturn the Ruttiger decision. As you know, the supreme court abolished workers’ compensation bad faith in 2012. This bill simply attempted to amend the insurance code to apply workers’ compensation insurance policies to those covered by unfair settlement practice prohibitions. The bill did not make it out of committee.

Several bills attempted to reinstate waiver in the extent of injury cases. Many of you may remember the day when adjusters had to dispute the extent of injury within sixty days or waive. This even applied to claims of extent arising after the first sixty days of the claim. SB 1492, HB 2630, and HB3022 would have required that an adjuster dispute extent of injury within sixty days of first notice of the claimed body part, or waive its dispute. As expected, these bills never gained traction and failed to make it out of committee.

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