Sometimes it is tough to drag yourself to association meetings involving your industry. You know you need to be there. You know there is going to be information presented that you need to know. And, you know that your involvement is good practice.
Every once in a while I am reminded why “industry” meetings are so great, so necessary, and at times, just “flat-out” entertaining. This past Tuesday, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the Statesboro Homebuilders Association which focused on insurance questions for those in the building industry.
The panel of distinguished experts included Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine. Oxendine is a lawyer by trade who serves as the state’s top watchdog over the insurance industry.
Oxendine is an articulate, strong speaker who leaves no doubt where he stands on certain issues. This is where the entertaining part comes in. When a question was posed about workers’ compensation insurance, it quickly became clear that Oxendine was not pleased with Georgia worker’s compensation system as it stands today.
“I really don’t like the system where you (members of the homebuilders association) are held to be a guarantor for everybody else,” he said.
Oxendine was referring in general to contractors and developers who can ultimately be held responsible for a work related accident on their job site even though the accident involved an independent contractor or an employee of a subcontractor and not an employee of their own.
“It (worker’s compensation system) is a very socialistic system that has been set up,” he said. “It is a system that says we don’t necessarily care about the business person. We don’t necessarily care about what the law is. If necessary, we will kind of make up some law as we go along just to find a way to find coverage for the employee (regardless of who that employee works for).”
Oxendine said the way the worker’s compensation system is structured, rulings by administrative law judges employed by the state worker’s compensation board are not subject to scrutiny by appellate courts like traditional legal proceedings are.
“You get some administrative law judge of the worker’s compensation board who has the attitude that I am going to find a way to make sure there is coverage for this employee and it doesn’t matter whose policy I go after - if it’s the employer of that employee, if it’s a sub up the ladder, if it is the general contractor, or the developer of the property or whatever, I am going to be imaginative and find any way I can to create, sometimes in my opinion a way to bend the law, to find coverage for an employee.”
Oxendine went so far as to say that in some cases the system lends itself to fraud on the part of injured workers.
“For example, you hire a guy that owns his own dump truck as an independent contractor to come haul dirt off of your job site,” he said. “If he gets hurt, he is going to swear on a stack of Bibles before an administrative law judge that he was your employee and you end up paying for it.”
“It (worker’s compensation system) is a scam, it really is. It is a way for workers to scam you. You shouldn’t be charged for it. The worker’s compensation board is going to find a way for builders to pay for it. It is a serious problem with the way the system is designed.”
Oxendine said changing the system is going to be very difficult, because many have become beneficiaries of its design.
“It’s an antiquated system that needs to be updated, but there are too many people making money off of it at our expense. If we change the system your rates would go down, but a lot of the rehabilitation suppliers, a lot of the doctors, a lot of chiropractors, and a lot of lawyers and those types of people might not make as much as they are now.”
I spoke with Oxendine on Friday giving him the opportunity to expound on the comments he made this past Tuesday.
“I want to be clear that I think every employee should be taken care of in the event of a work place accident,” he said. “I just think the system that was founded during the era of sweat shops and inhumane and unjust treatment of employees is archaic and outdated. It was founded when unions came about and employees needed representation.”
“We need a system that is fair to law abiding employers.”
Plain spoken words in an era when politicians parse their words with the precision of a “Ginsu” knife. Thank you area homebuilders for a very forthright exchange of ideas.
Until next week, I bid you au revoir.
Got a scoop for Jan? Call her at (912) 489-9463 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org