Two important and helpful changes to the law for injured workers and their family will take effect on August 31, 2019. One change could protect injured workers’ form debt collectors. The other change will make it easier for dependents of foreign workers who were killed at work.
Today we will write about the collections bill and next week we will post about the foreign dependents law.
The law amends Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1,108 by prohibiting a collection agency from attempting to collect a debt if there is a case pending in the Workers’ Compensation Court and the debt is alleged to be subject to payment under a work comp injury. Nebraska has gained national infamy for aggressive debt collection practices, so this legislation provides much needed relief for injured workers.
What this means is that lawyers can assist in getting collection agencies to halt collection of medical bills that are related to the work accident and injuries. This is extra important for injured workers because often they may not be able to return to work, and if their work comp claim has been denied, it often isn’t even possible to pay the bills that the employer should have to pay in the first place.
How does the bill work? Once an injured worker is billed for treatment, he/she should contact his lawyer if that bill has not been paid. Then, the lawyer representing the injured worker must provide the collection agency with notice of the pending workers’ compensation claim. The notice must be provided, in writing, to the provider or collection agency. The initial notice must contain the provider’s name, the injured worker’s date of the injury, a description of the injury and the filing date/case number of the pending case in the Workers’ Compensation Court.
In that same notice, or within another thirty days, notice should also be given that identifies the specific debt that is related to the workers’ compensation claim. In other words, the collection agency must be able to know what bills are potentially related to the work comp claim that way they can still continue to pursue collection on any unrelated debts.
The notice must be made by personal delivery, first class mail, or by another method otherwise agreed to. What “any other method” means is that likely the parties will agree that notice via email will be enough for purposes of the statute. Once notice is received, any collection lawsuits will be stayed (halted) until the workers’ compensation claim has been finalized.
The law requires that a workers’ compensation case actually be filed in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. While an injured worker can proceed pro se or without a lawyer, the employer will likely have an attorney, so injured workers should at least consult with an attorney,
The collections bill and foreign dependents bill both passed as part of LB 418 that passed the Legislature 35-0. Our firm was happy to work on this legislation, but this legislation was largely passed because of the outcome of the 2018 Legislative elections. Senator Cavanaugh, who sponsored the bill won a close election. Due to the election outcome, Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln was also elected to chair the Business and Labor Committee that handles most legislation related to workers’ compensation. Senator Hansen’s leadership was helpful in getting passing this legislation.
A legislature friendly to workers is no guarantee in 2021. Worker-friendly Kate Bolz will be term-limited out in a district that isn’t particularly friendly for workers in southeast Lincoln. Grand Island Senator Dan Quick, a union electrician who was hurt at work, could face a tough re-election challenge. Pay attention to state legislative races, support pro-worker candidates, vote and tell your friends and family to vote as well.