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The family of a Nebraska detention center guard who was killed by an inmate is speaking out in support of a bill that would waive exclusive remedy in the case of “willful negligence” by an employer.
Amanda Baker worked as a substitute guard at the Scotts Bluff County Detention Center in Gering, Nebraska. She died after being strangled by an inmate who lured her into his cell on Feb. 14, 2014.
Scotts Bluff County Attorney Doug Warner told reporters after the incident that the jail requires at least two guards to be present when entering an inmate’s cell, but Ms. Baker “may have been too trusting.”
Ms. Baker’s family and their attorney, Maren Lynn Chaloupka, spoke about the incident to the Nebraska Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee at a hearing on Monday. They testified in support of Legislative Bill 556, which would waive exclusive remedy if a worker is found to have sustained injuries as a result of his or her employer’s willful negligence.
Democratic Sen. Rick Kolowski introduced L.B. 556 in January.
“The vast majority of employers are responsible folks who care about their employees,” Sen. Kolowski said in an email. “However, there are some bad eggs out there who will trade worker safety for profit. The exclusive remedy in current law provides no incentive for those willfully negligent employers to correct their extreme carelessness and provide a safe work environment for their employees.”
Sen. Kolowski added that, under the current law, employees who are “grossly negligent” are not eligible for workers compensation.
“What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said. “Grossly negligent employers should not be afforded the protection of workers compensation either.”
Exclusive remedy in most states means workers injured on the job can receive benefits only through the workers compensation system, though a liability lawsuit may be allowed in the case of gross employer negligence.
Without an opportunity to seek damages from Ms. Baker’s employer in court, Ms. Chaloupka said the woman’s family could be entitled to only $235,000 from workers comp, according to a report by news site Omaha.com. The report also notes that Ms. Baker’s young son now lives with her parents.
“The inmate who murdered her has been brought to justice for his crime, but her employer has not been brought to justice for its shameful indifference to the safety of its employees,” said Ms. Baker’s mother Julie Bazsler, according to the report.
Though the attack by the inmate was captured by a surveillance camera, the report states that it took 15 minutes before Ms. Baker’s body was discovered.
Workers compensation exclusive remedy provisions, under attack in Florida and Oklahoma, face challenges in more states where workers comp reforms have reduced benefits.