RI Announces Changes to WC Statutes

                               Providence, RI (CompNewsNetwork) – Legislation passed by the General Assembly to make several changes to the Workers' Compensation statute has been enacted into law. The changes, which became law without the governor's signature, apply to injuries sustained on or after January 1, 2011.

Approved were bills -- (2010-H8114A) and (2010-S2083A) -- sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) and in the Senate by Sen. Paul W. Fogarty (D-Dist. 23, Glocester, Burrillville, North Smithfield). The legislators are chairs of the Committee on Labor in their respective chambers.

The legislation, recommended by the Workers' Compensation Advisory Council, makes a number of changes in the medical review procedure for claimants receiving workers' compensation benefits. Among them:

The new law adopts the most recent edition of the American Medical Association's Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment in determining “loss of use.”

It changes the various scheduling and reporting requirements of the Medical Advisory Board, intended to save time for the physicians, the board and the insurers. It also clarifies that treating physicians must furnish employees (or their attorneys) a medical report on loss of use within 10 days of a request.

For the first time in close to 30 years, there will be increases in the awards to injured workers when they suffer a loss of use, which is strictly defined by the statute and uses the AMA Guide to Permanent Impairment. The increase goes from one-half of the average weekly wage with a maximum of $90 and a minimum of $45 per week to one-half of the average weekly wage with a maximum of $180 and a minimum of $90 per week.

The new law also changes the benefit award for hearing loss to the extent it equates traumatic hearing loss with occupational hearing loss; preserves the confidentiality of employment, employer and insurance information submitted to the Department of Labor and Training, except for information necessary to determine compliance with the Workers' Compensation insurance laws; changes the language in the TDI statute as it relates to an offset for those applicants for TDI that received workers' compensation benefits in the past; extends the obligation of the General Assembly to capitalize the Uninsured Employer Fund for another year and delays its implementation for one year, and changes the language in the Municipal Employee Retirement statute as it relates to an offset for loss of use.

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