If you're employed as a jockey or exercise rider in New York, the myriad safety measures you must take to protect yourself from injury when riding a heavy animal are likely second nature by now. However, a highly physical job like yours does carry a higher risk of injury than an office worker, and at some point during your career you may find yourself dealing with riding-related injuries that prevent you from doing your job for a period of time. A last-minute deal between the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) and the New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund ("the Fund") could bring changes to how workers compensation payments are processed and paid. Read on to learn more about the potential compensation available if you're injured in the line of duty, as well as what this recent deal may mean for your future benefits.
What type of workers compensation is available for horsemen in New York?
Most employees in New York are covered by their employer's workers compensation policy for on-the-job illnesses and ailments. These employers purchase workers comp insurance from private companies, and then submit claims on an employee's behalf if the employee suffers an injury or is made ill by some aspect of his or her job. This process is overseen on a state level by the New York Workers Compensation Board. However, jockeys and other horsemen often work as independent contractors (or are employees of individuals or small companies not required to purchase workers compensation coverage), and are covered by the Fund due to the unique nature of this arrangement and the risks of injury. If not covered by the Fund, it's unlikely many New York jockeys would have any protection against job loss or medical expenses incurred on the job.
The Fund is designed to operate as a private workers compensation "pool" to provide payment of lost wages, medical expenses, and other costs for injured riders. Rather than purchase workers compensation insurance, horse trainers pay a per-stall daily rate at racing tracks and boarding facilities, which remit these fees to the Fund. Owners often pay an annual fee to the Fund and are required to turn over a percent of all purses won over the course of the year. The Fund invests this income and handles injury claims and payments directly with the injured rider.
What changes are coming to your workers compensation rules?
The Fund and NYTHA were recently engaged in vigorous negotiations about rate increases for trainers and owners. With several recent catastrophic (and expensive) injuries to New York riders, the amount of capital remaining in the Fund was reaching dangerously low levels. The NYTHA wished to exempt exercise riders from the protection of the Fund (therefore reducing the Fund's liability for injuries suffered by these riders), but this proposed bill was not adopted by the state Senate and did nothing to shrink the pool of potential riders covered by the Fund. The Fund wished to levy significant surcharges on the per-stall rates at facilities, which most trainers and owners opposed.
Fortunately, the Fund and NYTHA reached an agreement on December 30, 2015 that permits most Fund rates to remain the same during 2016 as they were in 2015 while increasing the safety of riders and jockeys. Among other changes, this agreement will begin tacking on additional fines (ranging from $200 to $600) if an owner or trainer has two or more workers compensation claims in a year. This is designed to penalize owners who are negligent in enforcing safety regulations and decrease the number (and cost) of injuries the Fund is required to cover.
For more information about specific workers compensation laws in other areas, such as North Carolina, check out websites like http://www.hardeeandhardee.com.