In our last blog post about workers’ compensation law in Missouri, we looked at the definition of a “dependent” for survival benefits. The term had been, once again, strictly construed by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) in order to deny a claim for benefits.
It has not always been this difficult to recover compensation for work-related injuries in Missouri.
What it Means to “Strictly Construe” a Law
When a court, administrative law judge, or the LIRC hears a case, their job is to apply the law to the specific set of facts before them. This requires interpreting the law they are applying. While the results from applying the law to the facts are often easy to see, there are some cases where it is more difficult.
One example of this is the case we blogged about two weeks ago. There, an ex-wife was completely financially dependent on her ex-husband, with whom she had reconciled since their divorce. She claimed that she was a “dependent” and was entitled to survival benefits after her ex-husband was killed at work. The applicable law, Missouri Statute 287.240(3), lists several categories of “dependents,” none of which includes ex-spouses, but also states that, “In all other cases questions of the degree of dependency shall be determined in accordance with the facts at the time of the injury.”
Nevertheless, the LIRC strictly construed the law, denying the ex-wife benefits because she did not fall within one of the law’s defined categories and interpreting the other provision in a way that did not apply to the case.
Basically, “strictly construing” a statute means looking for ways to make it work against the claimant. The LIRC is very good at it.
Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation Laws are Now All Strictly Construed
Strictly construing Missouri’s workers’ compensation statutes is not a choice that the LIRC makes, though. It is required by the law. Missouri Statute 287.800 explicitly tells courts, judges, and the LIRC to strictly construe all aspects of Missouri’s workers’ compensation law.
It was always this way.
In fact, until 2005, it was the exact opposite.
Up until 2005, Missouri Statute 287.800 told judges and the LIRC that “All of the provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed with a view to the public welfare.” “Liberally construing” a statute means looking for ways to make the law work for the claimant.
That changed in 2005 when the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bills 1 and 130. It is because of this law that the LIRC and appellate courts have tightened up nearly every aspect of Missouri’s workers’ compensation law, from the types of risks that are unique to the workplace to the confines of the worksite to the Second Injury Fund. All of this is done in order to prevent hurt workers from getting the coverage they need, thereby reducing the costs of workers’ compensation insurance and saving businesses some money.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at the Smith Law Office advocate for the rights of hurt workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, and the rest of western Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.