'We fail to see any real differences between farm and ranch laborers and all other workers in New Mexico that would justify the exclusion,' the court wrote
ABQ FREE PRESS STAFF REPORT
The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled that denying worker’s compensation benefits to farm and ranch workers is unconstitutional.
The decision of a three-judge panel of the court reverses dismissal of two worker’s comp claims by the New Mexico Worker’s Compensation Administration. The dismissals were based on a 78-year-old provision of the law that prohibited farm and ranch workers from collecting benefits for on-the-job injuries. The Court noted that the exclusion is arbitrary and “without purpose or reason and leads to absurd results.”
“We fail to see any real differences between farm and ranch laborers and all other workers in New Mexico that would justify the exclusion,” the court wrote.
It is likely that the constitutionality of the exclusion ultimately will be decided by the New Mexico Supreme Court. The appellate court decision affects workers injured on the job after March 30, 2012.
The decision was rendered in the consolidated cases of a worker injured picking chile and and a second worker injured while working at a dairy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that there are 18,000 agricultural workers in New Mexico and Arizona, but a spokesperson could not immediately break down that number further.
Arguing on behalf of the injured workers were their lawyers and the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty. Gail Evans, the center’s legal director, said, “Finally, a Court has struck down this outdated, discriminatory law which treated our most hardworking and underpaid workers differently from all other workers when they were injured at work. Finally, the men and women who pick our chile, milk our cows, and continue our tradition of being an agricultural state have the same rights to health care and lost wages as other workers in our state, when they are injured doing this dangerous and important work.”
Arguing on behalf of the farm and ranch workers exclusion were lawyers for the New Mexico Worker’s Compensation Administration. Arguing for the constitutionality of the exclusion in friends of the court briefs were the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the Dairy Producers of N ew Mexico and the Dairy Farmers of New Mexico.
The office of Attorney General Hector Balderas argued on behalf of the state’s uninsured employers fund.