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Legal group: Farm laborers covered for injuries

comptwoSANTA FE — Farm and ranch laborers in New Mexico are likely to gain workers’ compensation protections for job-related injuries because of recent state court decisions, according to a legal advocacy group.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on Tuesday applauded a ruling by the state Court of Appeals last month hat directs the Workers’ Compensation Administration to follow an Albuquerque judge’s ruling in favor of agricultural workers.

The Workers’ Compensation Administration isn’t planning to challenge the Court of Appeals decision, but spokesman Van Cravens said the agency is trying to sort out the effects of the ruling. He said there are questions of whether the Albuquerque judge’s ruling will be binding on other district courts across New Mexico.

“We are still in the process of trying to figure out how we are going to follow this ruling,” said Cravens.

A state district court judge in 2011 declared unconstitutional a state law provision that excluded laborers at farms, ranches and dairies from workers’ compensation coverage for back wages and medical expenses for injuries on the job.

The Court of Appeals didn’t directly decide the constitutional question in its decision, but said the workers’ compensation enforcement agency is bound by the Albuquerque judge’s ruling because it didn’t appeal the constitutional issue. The agency’s appeal had focused on legal procedural matters.

Efforts have failed in the Legislature over the years to change state law to require workers’ compensation coverage for agricultural laborers in New Mexico.

Workers Comp is based in Albuquerque and has administrative law judges that resolve disputed claims for medical expenses and back wages for injured or disabled workers. State law requires employers to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage.