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June 02, 2021 Profile

Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Committee

Elizabeth Connellan Smith

The Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Committee is a TIPS general committee bringing together administrative law judges, defense attorneys, plaintiffs attorneys, law students, and academics all involved in the areas of workers’ compensation law and employers’ liability law. The committee seeks to educate and illuminate all aspects of workers’ compensation law and related state and federal laws that govern leave, injury management, injury recovery, and accommodation in the workplace. The committee’s main emphasis is on the impact the laws can have on employers and employees in avoiding workplace accidents and addressing any workplace injuries that may occur, including managing leaves and accommodation, as well as the various legal, ethical, and practical issues that can arise in those areas of the law. While the committee addresses a broader range of topics—including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and occasionally the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)—the focus is primarily on workers’ compensation law.

The committee’s chief effort is on education, with a midwinter meeting held every other March at which stakeholders gather to listen to panel discussions and exchange ideas on existing trends in the industry; proposed legislation across the country; the ethics of the practice of workers’ compensation law; the interaction of workers’ compensation law with the FMLA, ADA, and OSHA; and emerging solutions for the various issues unique to workers’ compensation law. The committee also publishes a biannual newsletter, in which members are encouraged to submit scholarly articles, book reviews, and other relevant content to be disseminated to the membership. Three committee members, Judge David Torrey, Lawrence D. McIntyre, and Justin D. Beck, publish an annual survey of recent developments in workers’ compensation and employers’ liability law. The committee meets virtually on the second Wednesday of the month, every month, to plan for upcoming seminars and webinars and discuss any issues related to the work of the committee.

Each year, the committee strives to increase membership, diversity, and involvement in the work of the committee. It is a tight-knit, collegial committee with many members who have participated actively for years. The leadership is structured to increase member involvement, although generally it is a smaller, core group who oversee the planning and execution of the midwinter meeting. Committee members are encouraged to take on the various roles central to the work of the committee, including social networking, membership development, editing the biannual newsletter, utilizing technology to advance committee interests, and law student outreach. The leadership is structured to allow members to become intimately familiar with the principal work of the committee, while moving through the critical leadership positions, designed to ensure succession planning. Until COVID-19 shut down the country, panels planned for the midwinter meeting of 2020 included “The State of (Dis)Union in Workers’ Compensation Nationwide,” “Workers’ Compensation and the Gig Economy: Challenges Flowing from Temporary Work,” and “Ethics in Business Development and Legal Marketing in the 21st Century,” to name just a few.

Additionally, the committee successfully partnered with the ABA Labor and Employment Law Standing Committee on Workers’ Compensation (LEL WC Committee) until that group was disbanded. The two committees historically took turns planning and hosting the midwinter meeting; and with the demise of the LEL WC Committee, we have successfully recruited former members to join our committee, including the chair of the LEL WC Committee at the time it was disbanded. At the biannual midwinter meeting, the committee places emphasis on holding a fundraiser for Kid’s Chance, a nonprofit devoted to providing support and scholarships to children of workers who are either severely injured or killed on the job, along with a fundraiser for a local nonprofit serving at-risk children or single-parent families in the host city where the meeting is being held. Last year’s local charity was Hope’s House, a nonprofit that assists endangered mothers and their children in getting into a safe living situation.

A second partner to the committee is the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, with whom the committee routinely joins for the annual induction dinner, held on the day following the final day of midwinter meeting programming. The committee shares a number of members with that organization.

A project of particular pride for the committee is the creation of the Rising Star Award, an award designed to acknowledge a lawyer with a young practice in good standing who exhibits professional excellence, service to the profession and the bar, service to the community, a reputation for the advancement of legal ethics and professional responsibility, and/or involvement in and contributions to ABA activities. In fact, the committee leadership won an ABA award for creating this unique and important recognition.

Due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, plans for 2021 are still a work in progress, but the committee hopes to be able to at least present a virtual midwinter educational seminar, publish the Winter/Spring and Summer/Fall newsletters, and explore opportunities to present webinars on emerging trends and topics relevant to the membership. The committee is actively working to increase both membership and involvement of existing members, so please reach out to membership vice-chair Lisa Wade ([email protected]) or chair-elect Beth Smith ([email protected]) if you would like to become involved in the committee.

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Elizabeth Connellan Smith is of counsel at Verrill Dana in Portland, Maine, where she focuses her practice on labor and employment law, including workers’ compensation law and employer, insurer, and third-party administrator advice and counseling. She is chair-elect of the TIPS Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Committee.