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Alabama: Trial Court Judge Rules State’s Workers’ Compensation Act Unconstitutional

May 12, 2017 (1 min read)

An Alabama Circuit Court Judge found unconstitutional two separate provisions of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act—the $220 cap on weekly PPD benefits [Ala. Code § 25–5–68] and a 15 percent cap on attorneys’ fees [Ala. Code § 25–5–90(a)]. Because the Alabama Legislature inserted a non-severability statute [Ala. Code § 25–5–17] into the Act in 1984, Judge Pat Ballard indicated the effect of his ruling was to declare the entire Act unconstitutional. As to the cap on PPD benefits, Judge Pat Ballard stressed that Alabama’s Act impermissibly established two groups of disparately treated injured workers without a rational basis. The first group—those receiving TTD benefits and PTD benefits—enjoy indexed benefits; their weekly benefits increase annually with changes in Alabama’s statewide average weekly wage. The second group—those who qualify for PPD benefits—can receive no more than $220 per week, a maximum amount that has not been increased by the Legislature in several decades. Nora Clower—an injured worker with a permanent partial disability—challenged the cap, arguing that $220 was beneath both the poverty line and the minimum wage. As to the attorney fee cap, the judge referenced Florida’s recent Castellanos decision, and found Alabama’s 15 percent cap on attorneys’ fees violated the due process rights of injured workers. The judge stayed his order for 120 days to give the Legislature an opportunity to take appropriate action. The Alabama Legislature is, however, expected to adjourn its annual session within a few days.

Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., the Feature National Columnist for the LexisNexis Workers’ Compensation eNewsletter, is the co-author of Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law (LexisNexis).

LexisNexis Online Subscribers: Citations below link to Lexis Advance.

See Clower v. CVS Caremark Corp., 01-CV–2013–904687 (Jefferson County Circuit Court, May 8, 2017)

See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 93.04.

Source: Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the nation’s leading authority on workers’ compensation law