June 25, 2015

Court: Farmworkers eligible for worker’s comp

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gavel on stack of documents

The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that farm and ranch workers are eligible for worker’s compensation benefits that are available to workers in other industries.

The court ruled unanimously on Thursday that denying benefits to injured farm workers is unconstitutional and called the statutory exclusion of ranch and farm workers “arbitrary.”

From the decision:

We fail to see any real differences between workers who fall under the statutory definition of a farm and ranch laborer and workers who do not. We also fail to see any real differences between farm and ranch laborers and all other workers in New Mexico that would justify the exclusion.

The ruling upheld a decision in the Second Judicial District Court, where a judge ruled the denial of benefits unconstitutional.

In a written statement, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty praised the court’s decision and called the court’s analysis “thorough and thoughtful.”

On behalf of the center, Legal Director Gail Evans wrote, “Finally, the men and women who pick our chile, milk our cows, and continue our tradition of being an agricultural state have the same rights to health care and lost wages as other workers in our state, when they are injured doing this dangerous and important work.”

Not everyone is cheering the decision.

State Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, told New Mexico Political Report he grew up on farms and ranches and is now concerned about possible the misuse of benefits by workers.

“It’s going to create a big problem,” Nuñez said. “[Workers] claim injury for every little thing.”

He added that many employers already assist with medical bills for their employees.

“Most of these farmers will take care of [their workers],” he said.

The court’s ruling also allows payouts going back to 2012, something Nuñez said was “going to be expensive.”