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How Florida Insurance Companies Avoid Paying Workers’ Compensation Claims (And Employers Get Away with Injuring Workers)

ProPublica Staff Writer Michael Grabell and NPR’s Howard Berkes document how insurance companies are using a Florida law to get undocumented workers arrested and deported when they get injured on the job.

Undocumented workers are a way of life in this country. There are millions of undocumented workers who either use false work documents or have no documentation at all.

Many employers turn a blind eye to the practice of hiring undocumented workers, either out of what they perceive as necessity – the need for huge crews of low-paid seasonal workers to harvest or plant crops – or out of greed: hiring undocumented workers for “dirty” jobs like asbestos removal where unscrupulous employers cut corners on safety and worker protection. Safety probably isn’t a priority for many or possibly any of these employers, and many count on the illegal status of the workers to protect them from complaints to OSHA and from workers’ compensation claims.

“However people feel about immigration, judges and lawmakers nationwide have long acknowledged that the employment of unauthorized workers is a reality of the American economy,” writes ProPublica’s Michael Grabell in his Aug. 16 article, “They Got Hurt at Work. Then They Got Deported.”

“From nailing shingles on roofs to cleaning hotel rooms, some 8 million immigrants work with false or no papers nationwide, and studies show they’re more likely to get hurt or killed on the job than other workers. So over the years, nearly all 50 states, including Florida, have given these workers the right to receive workers’ comp,” he added.

Grabell goes on to note that Florida, which has a large population of undocumented workers, made it illegal in 2003 to file a workers’ compensation claim using false identification. This placed undocumented workers or workers using false papers between a rock and a hard place. Their choices are to exercise their legal right to file a workers’ compensation claim and face deportation if they acknowledge they are in the country illegally or face arrest for felony fraud if they use false papers to file the claim, or give up their right to workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages and medical care for an injury suffered in the workplace.

ProPublica and NPR analyzed 14 years of Florida insurance fraud data and court records and discovered nearly 800 cases in which employees were arrested, including 130 injured workers. In his article, Grabell noted that another 125 workers were arrested after a workplace injury prompted state investigators to check the personnel files of other workers. At least one in four was deported following the arrest.

Insurers, using the law to their advantage, have denied claims for serious workplace injuries, including falls from roofs, severe electric shocks and even impalement on a stake following a fall.

“State officials defended their enforcement, noting that the workers, injured or not, violated the law and could have caused financial harm if the Social Security numbers they were using belonged to someone else,” wrote Grabell. “Moreover, the law requires insurers to report any worker suspected of fraud.”

The story will run Aug. 16 at 4:35 p.m. ET and 6:35 p.m. ET on NPR’s All Things Considered.

To read the full story, visit these links:



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TAGS: Health
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