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Evidence of Bias in Workers’ Compensation Awards

October 26, 2012 (4 min read)
Study Shows Whites Receive Higher Benefits Than Other Groups for Comparable Harm
Despite the basic workers’ compensation principle that every claimant should receive equal medical and wage-loss benefits for the same type of compensable injury and that those benefits should reflect the extent of that harm, relevant statistics have indicated that someone’s ethnic background may impact the awarded compensation.
An article entitled “Analysis of Ethnic Disparities in Workers’ Compensation Claims Using Data Linkage” that Lee S. Friedman, Ph.D. and his co-authors wrote for the October 2012 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine addressed the issue of race-based differences regarding workers’ compensation benefits in the context of compensable injuries that construction workers in Illinois sustained. The high incidence of compensable harm in that industry is one reason that the team chose it for the study.
The stated goal of the research on which the authors based the article “was to assess ethnic disparities in monetary compensation among construction workers injured on the job through the linkage of medical records and workers’ compensation data.” The primary finding was that “white non-Hispanic construction workers are awarded higher monetary settlements despite the observation that for specific injuries the mean temporary total disability and permanent partial disability were equivalent to or lower than those in Hispanic and black construction workers.”
In simpler terms, the data showed that white non-Hispanic construction workers typically received more workers’ compensation benefits than other workers received for comparable or greater compensable harm. The following brief discussion of the study demonstrates how the researchers reached that conclusion.
Study Overview
Statistics showed that Hispanics comprised approximately 30-percent of the construction labor force despite making up only roughly 15-percent of the entire U.S. workforce. The percentage of Hispanics in the higher-risk subsets, such as roofers and cement masons, of the construction industry ranged from 43-percent to just over 51-percent.
One defect regarding prior studies that attempted to determine whether ethnic-based differences existed regarding workers compensation was that “none of the studies have specifically investigated differences in severity of [work-related] injury and many fail to differentiate between non-Hispanics and Hispanics.” This element, and other shortcomings, regarding prior research was cited as a reason for past inconsistent results.
The researchers determined that data-related to workers’ compensation claims addressed the flaws regarding other studies because workers’ compensation statistics “provide information about the employee, employer, level of impairment after an injury or illness, and the direct costs associated with an injury or illness.”
The researchers specifically analyzed 16,794 workers’ compensation claims that construction workers filed in Illinois between 2000 and 2005. The researchers also reviewed relevant data from the Illinois Trauma Registry, which consisted of statistics regarding patients who Illinois trauma centers treated.
Nature of Injuries
The statistics demonstrated that black construction workers were more likely than other categories of construction workers to sustain injuries related to assaults and motor vehicle accidents. No difference was shown regarding the types of injuries that Hispanic and non-Hispanic white construction workers sustained, and that harm was frequently attributed to falls.
The data revealed as well that “the most common injury types across all workers were fractures, internal injuries, and open wounds.” Further, “overall the distribution of injuries by body part was nearly identical between white non-Hispanic and Hispanic construction workers.”
Dispute resolution records showed that the court system resolved roughly 75-percent of workers’ compensation claims regarding all three groups of construction workers. However, the median total monetary compensation that claimants received varied significantly based on ethnicity despite the fact that “total percent permanent partial disability and weeks of total temporary disability did not significantly differ between the ethnic groups.”
The bottom line was that the white non-Hispanic construction workers in the study received roughly $6,000 more than the other construction workers despite every claimant in the study sustaining comparable compensable harm. This suggested that ethnicity played a significant role in awarding benefits.
Final Thought
Studies such as the one described above may help support a claim that a workers’ compensation award reflected ethnic-based bias. Such an assertion can provide a basis for a prolonged appeals process.
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Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 2012 Edition Now Available
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