In a surprise May 8 decision and a clear case of judicial overreach, a Jefferson County circuit judge declared Alabama’s workers’ compensation law unconstitutional based on two provisions of the law. The judge initially stayed the ruling for 120 days “to allow the Alabama Legislature, which is currently in session, to cure the constitutional deficiencies.” At the time, there were only four working days left in the regular session and no legislation proposed to remedy the judge’s issues with the law.
Nine days later, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Pat Ballard stayed his order indefinitely until the Legislature can act. The judge said pending workers’ compensation cases should be administered “in accordance with the current” workers’ comp law. The revised order said the earlier findings remain and further orders would occur if the Legislature is “either unwilling or unable to take … action.” He said such an order would be entered at least 30 days ahead of any action.
In Ballard’s original ruling, he declared the entire workers’ comp law unconstitutional because the Workers’ Compensation Act has what is known as a non-severability clause. That provision says that if any part of the law is judged invalid, the whole act is invalid.
The two provisions Ballard declared unconstitutional are the $220 cap on weekly workers’ compensation for permanent partial disabilities and the cap on attorneys’ fees at 15 percent of the compensation awarded or paid in workers’ compensation proceedings.
Even with the changes to the ruling, it is expected to be appealed.
Ballard’s rulings are based on a 2013 case – Nora Clower vs. CVS Caremark.
Read more about the decision and the case it is based on:
- Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to remain in place, for now (insurancejournal.com, May 18)
- Judge stays previous order striking down Alabama’s Workers’ Comp law (al.com, May 17)
- A judge ruled Alabama’s workers’ comp law unconstitutional. Now what? (al.com, May 11)
- Judge rules state’s workers’ compensation act unconstitutional (al.com, May 8)
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