Variations in citizens’ legal instincts

I have taken a variety of workers’ compensation related calls at my University of Wyoming College of Law office that have suggested to me how different the legal instincts of everyday citizens can be from state to state. For example, a woman called me and articulated what I thought was a straightforward case for a workers’ compensation claim. I asked her if she had called the appropriate local office. She said she had and had been told she should just “file for unemployment.” She asked me if this “sounded right.”

I grew up in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and spent the first 15 years of my life working in warehouses and on airport tarmacs in the greater Philadelphia area. I am quite sure I knew by the age of 17 about the existence of something called “workers’ compensation.” And at an even younger age I attended the same Boston-area middle school as Sam Adams and knew by heart “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by the age of 10. Which is all to say I would have given that workers’ compensation employee an earful if I had been told to “file an unemployment claim.” It is hard to get Philadelphia and Boston kids off the phone as easily as this poor woman.

Of course, there is a deeper legal lesson here. When an administrative agency provides information (rules) upon which a citizen relies to her detriment, a due process issue is presented. In fact, I would argue that the oral provision of such information is in effect the creation of a “non-legislative rule” for which the administrative agency is officially responsible. I would like to see some feisty Wyoming lawyers push that point in the near future.

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