There are five towns in Massachusetts that do not carry workers comp insurance for their employees. Four of them - Dana, Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich - are under 412 billion gallons of water: they were submerged during the 1930s in the making of the Quabbin Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to Boston and a number of suburban cities and towns. The fifth, Tewksbury, voted to join the workers comp system way back in 1914, but a clerical error recorded the positive vote as negative, resulting in nearly 100 years of a go-it-alone, pay-as-you-go, hope-for-the-best approach to comp among the residents of the town, now nearing 30,000 people.
To date, Tewksbury has been pretty lucky. The town has paid out between $100,000 and $189,000 per year for claims in recent years. That's not bad, considering that one failed back can run upwards of $500,000. But just because Tewksbury has been lucky does not mean they are going to stay lucky. The liability to the town's tax payers is precariously open-ended. In these challenging times of reduced budgets for all municipal services, the specter of an unanticipated claim could put Tewksbury on the verge of bankruptcy. Because the town did not participate in the comp system, injured workers had the option of suing for damages unavailable in the comp system.
As we read in Insurance News Net, last month the town meeting voted to adopt workers comp coverage. (Presumably, the vote was properly recorded this time.) It will take a few years to develop an experience rating, based upon actual losses and statutory benefits. Overall the cost of insurance will run a bit higher than an average loss year, but that's price you pay for transferring the risk to a third party.Comp will finally become a set cost in the town budget. A workers comp policy comes with a comfort factor that cannot be measured simply in premium dollars: any claims, large or small, any catastrophic losses involving multiple town employees, will now be covered by insurance. That should help town residents and officials sleep a little better at night.
As for the surviving citizens of Dana, Prescott, Enfield and Greenwich, displaced long ago by the state's appetite for water, comp is not a likely component in their dreams. I imagine they welcome a nocturnal glimpse of the communities where they once lived and waken with sense of sadness and of loss.