The New York workers’ compensation system guarantees both medical care and weekly cash benefits to people who are injured on the job. Weekly cash benefits and medical care are paid by the employer’s insurance carrier, as directed by the New York Workers’ Compensation Board. Employers pay for this insurance (employees do not contribute).
Nearly 7.9 million workers are covered by the New York Workers’ Compensation Law. In 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), the Board indexed 142,830 new claims and reopened 250,804 claims when new issues arose. In the same period, 11,742 claims were controverted (or “denied”) by the employer/carrier.
The Board maintains 11 district offices across New York, located in:
- Rochester; and
The Board also maintains many more hearing points where hearings take place. In 2015, Workers’ Compensation Law Judges held 261,446 hearings.
It is hard to imagine it today, walking down Broadway towards Times Square, but from the late 1800’s until the middle of the twentieth century the garment trade was the largest industry in New York City. In fact, more people worked making clothes in New York than anything else, and more clothes were manufactured in New York than in any other city in the world. You can still see the buildings – big ten- and fifteen-story industrial warehouses – in the twenty blocks below Times Square and into SoHo and Tribeca – almost all built to house garment makers.
To visit those factories was to see vast rooms of men and women hunched over sewing machines. Children, too.
It was this miserable working environment that led to the establishment of the first “Workmen’s Compensation” laws in America.
There was a fire at the Triangle Shirt Waist Company located on lower Broadway in Manhattan on March 25, 1911. More than 600 men, women, and children were employed there, bent over their sewing machines for twelve hours a day. At approximately 5:00PM, a fire on the eighth floor spread rapidly to the ninth and tenth floors. The doors, which opened inwards, trapped some workers inside. The elevators didn’t work and some of the exit doors had been locked shut.
At least 145 workers died that day, some leaping to their deaths to avoid the choking smoke and flames as the factory burned.
Public opinion and organized labor (along with a generous helping of yellow journalism) set the stage for the politicians to enact (and for the courts to subsequently uphold) a system of compulsory insurance providing benefits to injured workers and their dependents.
Since its enactment, the New York Workmen’s Compensation Law has undergone more than 1,000 amendments (the most wide-reaching of those very recently, which changes phasing in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014) and in 1978 was “politically corrected” by being re-named the non-gender-specific “Workers’ Compensation Law.”
In March 2007, New York adopted major reforms to its Workers’ Compensation Law including an increase in available temporary disability payments for injured workers with the trade-off being that lifetime permanent partial disability benefits are no longer available. The reforms have spawned significant litigation to clarify the meaning of many of the changed statutory sections. The Workers’ Compensation Board has also attempted to resolve many more cases administratively.
In March 2009, a series of articles was published by the New York Times about New York Workers’ Compensation. With article titles like “Meatball Justice” and “A World of Hurt,” the editorial slant was clear: the workers’ compensation system “serves no one well and is arguably the most adversarial of any state in the nation.”
In April 2013, the Workers’ Compensation Law was changed by the Business Relief Act which closed the Fund for Re-Opened Cases, increased the minimum benefit rate, and made other changes to the Law.
It remains in a state of change with new case law decisions, new regulations, and new Board filing requirements changing the way workers’ compensation claims are brought, developed, and defended.