Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act in Jeopardy as One Circuit Judge Declares Act Unconstitutional
This week, a Circuit Court judge in Jefferson County, Alabama,
considering the legality of the $220.00 per week cap on permanent
partial disability benefits and the statutory limitation on attorney
fees, held the entire Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act is
unconstitutional under both the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S.
Constitution and multiple provisions of the Alabama Constitution. While
finding constitutional problems with specific provisions of the Alabama
Workers’ Compensation Act, the judge declared in Clower v. CVS Caremark Corp., CV13-904687, the entire Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act unconstitutional due to the non-severability provision in the Act.
The judge stated in his Order that, to allow time for the Alabama Legislature to take up these issues, the Order would not go in to affect for 120 days. This would allow the Legislature, who is in session, to amend the Act accordingly.
The employer has 42 days in which to file an appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama. If appealed, the Supreme Court of Alabama would likely stay the effect of the Circuit Court decision. If the employer elects not to appeal, the Order of the Jefferson County Circuit Court would be binding in that circuit only. However, it could encourage plaintiffs to bring similar actions in other circuits using this Order as persuasive authority. Whether this case is appealed, or another case makes its way through the appellate process, we believe the appellate courts will eventually take this issue under consideration.
Should this ruling stand and a higher appellate court affirm the Workers’ Compensation Act is unconstitutional, the stakeholders in the Alabama workers’ compensation system will be left in limbo regarding their rights and remedies relating to workplace accidents. For now, the implication of this ruling should have little effect on how Alabama workers’ compensation cases are handled. Should you have more questions regarding this ruling or its implication on any case you are presently handling, please do not hesitate to contact a Swift Currie attorney.
The foregoing is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the full effect of these changes. Nothing in this notice should be construed as legal advice. This document is intended only to notify our clients and other interested parties about important recent developments. Every effort has been made to ascertain the accuracy of the information contained within this notice.