CHARLESTON – West Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline has moved to shut down businesses that owed money to the former Workers Compensation Commission.
Cline's head legal counsel, Mary Jane Pickens, has asked Kanawha County Circuit Court to issue injunctions that would force those businesses to stop doing business.
"We have filed for less than a hundred injunctions the last couple of weeks," Pickens said in a Jan. 3 interview. "We will continue filing them."
The Workers Compensation Commission shut down Dec. 31. A private company, Brick Street, began insuring employers Jan. 1.
Employers that owed money to the old commission cannot buy workers compensation policies from Brick Street. They face possible shutdowns and penalties up to $10,000.
When the old commission shut down, about 500 of its 800 employees transferred to Brick Street. The rest transferred to the Insurance Commissioner's office.
Pickens said regulation of workers compensation has brought a big change to the office.
"We were insurance lawyers," she said. "We didn't have to know anything about workers compensation."
She said the office went from regulating insurance companies to regulating every employer in West Virginia.
"That's a pretty big step," she said. "We have to make sure employers are insured."
Owners and officers of uninsured businesses will assume personal liability for injuries their workers suffer.
For extra protection of workers in uninsured businesses, the legislature authorized a $5 million Uninsured Employers Fund. Pickens, however, said she aims to keep people from using the fund.
So far, the fund contains no money. If it has to pay claims, Pickens said, the state can raise the necessary amount through assessments on all employers.
"Every employer needs to make sure that other employers are insured," she said.
The Uninsured Employers Fund would also possess authority to recover any payment by collecting it back from the uninsured employer, she said.
The West Virginia Record asked Pickens for case numbers on the Kanawha County injunction requests so the newspaper could identify the businesses.
Pickens, in an e-mail response, wrote that she would try to provide such a list.