The House of Delegates unanimously passed legislation today to close a loophole in Virginia’s workers’ compensation law that denies benefits to some brain-injured workers.
House Bill 1475, sponsored by Roanoke Democrat Onzlee Ware, would help workers injured in unwitnessed accidents who are unable to recall the circumstances of the incident. The bill now goes to the Senate, which has yet to take up a similar measure (Senate Bill 823) sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke. Edwards said he will amend his bill to match Ware’s.
The lawmakers introduced their bills in response to the case of Roanoke County resident Mike Gentry, who was denied benefits for more than a year after falling from a roof while installing a satellite dish. Gentry’s head injury rendered him unable to remember the accident for five months and, because no one saw his fall, his workers’ compensation claim was denied because of lack of evidence.
The legislation is modeled on a Kentucky statute and has the support of trial lawyers, insurance lobbyists and labor. The bill creates a presumption that injuries such as those suffered by Gentry are work-related, unless there is “substantial evidence to the contrary.” There also must be medical evidence that the injured worker is physically or mentally unable to testify about the incident.