I read with interest your April 20 article about the Second Injury Fund. I represent people who are hurt at work, and years ago I represented the Second Injury Fund as a special assistant attorney general, so I am very aware of how the fund operates.
Some in the business community are saying the Second Injury Fund is paying people for non-work-related injuries. This statement is not accurate and represents a misunderstanding of the Second Injury Fund. The fund pays for the impact of the work-related injury in combination with a prior medical condition. The fund does not pay for the prior medical condition itself, whether that condition is a work-related condition or not.
Here is an example of an injury involving both eyes: In 2005, a person loses the sight in their left eye — whether from a disease, an on-the-job injury or an off-the-job injury, it does not matter. The person is working again when, in 2011, he or she is injured once more, losing the sight of the right eye. Unlike someone with no previous injury to their eyes, the result for this person is total blindness and, in all likelihood, permanent disability for life. The injury is worse for that person because of the existence of the prior medical condition. The fund pays for the combined impact, not the prior injury itself.
Because of the fund, the employer only pays the workers' compensation claim for the loss of the sight of one eye — the work injury as seen in a vacuum — without the existence of the prior medical condition, and the fund pays for the rest of the impact of that work injury.
Before the fund was created, the employer was responsible for the entire impact of the work injury. If the business community wishes to go back to that liability, that is its choice. But, to argue employees are being paid for non-work-related disability is just inaccurate. When they receive Second Injury Fund benefits, people are only being paid for disability that results from the work injury.
Phil Hess is an attorney in St. Louis. He is the president-elect of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys.