Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

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WILG Turns 20! Worker’s Injury Law And Advocacy Group 20th Anniversary

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

I joined WILG in its 1995 inaugural year. At those early conferences, my colleagues around the nation were battling workers’ comp “deform,” and engaged in political battles in their respective states, lobbying legislators on behalf of injured workers’ rights.

I thought I was relatively insulated in Wisconsin, the national “model” state for workers’ comp, with an Advisory Council composed of management and labor which each biennium produced an “agreed-upon” bill that was accepted by the legislature.

The Republican ascendancy in Wisconsin (Scott Walker as Governor, and both Assembly and Senate controlled by Republicans) has decided to ignore 100 years of progressive legislation and ignore the Advisory Council’s recommendations. This dangerous precedent will make workers’ comp more politicized, and threaten the stability of Wisconsin’s workers’ comp system. Wisconsin, like other states, will be part of a “race to the bottom” in workers’ rights and benefits.

WILG’s current President, Matt Belcher of Illinois, provided this summary of the state of workers’ comp as WILG celebrates its 20th anniversary:

”We have never been better positioned as a national organization to advocate on behalf of the families of injured workers.

Recent success in reviewing courts have highlighted nationally the unconstitutional danger posed to the community when injured workers lose access to effective legal representation, have capricious benefit limits imposed upon them, or are disabled due to unfair medical treatment bureaucracies.

WILG and its members have been at the fore of litigation battles where catastrophically injured workers have lost their savings, been forced onto welfare rolls and into Social Security Disability plans while simultaneously being denied access to the civil courthouse and the free exercise of their 7th amendment right to a jury trial. See Wade v. Scott Recycling (Virginia); Malcomson v. Liberty Northwest (Montana); Pilkington & Lee v. State of Oklahoma (Oklahoma); Padgett v. State of Florida (reversed on procedural grounds), Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, and Castellanos v. Next Door Company (Florida).

The United States Department of Labor in coordination with OSHA have finally “discovered” that employee misclassification and wage theft are rampant, and that the cost-shifting externalization of care for injured workers is as poisonous as it is pervasive.

Perhaps most fundamentally, ProPublica, bolstered by the imprimatur and audience of NPR, has created a national conversation and awareness of the oppressed plight of injured workers with its feature The Demolition of Workers’ Compensation which exposed to the public domain the travesty and arbitrary injustice we slog through on a daily basis.

If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want. -Karl Popper

Continual, constructive self-assessment of our organizational efforts is indispensable to the accomplishment of our mission. Are we really doing the best job possible and are we succeeding to our complete potential?

Governors in the traditionally blue states of California and New York have signed away the long term financial security of millions of families of injured workers while Texas and Oklahoma have essentially jettisoned workers’ compensation benefits, allowing indifferent employers to Bail-Out of their responsibility to provide for the safety and security of working families. Further corporate front group Bail-Out initiatives are fermenting in the legislatures of Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.

In my view, the state workers’ compensation system is in its most dire situation in at least the last half-century. -Prof John F. Burton, Jr.

Professor Burton is clearly referencing only the perspective of the injured worker and not the immense wealth of the $85 billion insurance industry where insurance carriers now earn $6.20 in profits for every $100 of net premiums; and, private employers on average pay only 44 cents per hour for each employee to be provided with coverage.

Empirical evidence reliably demonstrates that each reduction in benefits to an injured workers’ family subsequent to “reform” has not translated into lower premiums for small business but primarily in greater profit for the self-insureds and the insurance industry. From 2007 to 2012, workers’ compensation benefits and costs per $100 of payroll were lower than at any time over the last three decades, while insurance company investment profits in 2011, 2012, and preliminarily for 2013, have topped 14% annually.

According to OSHA, workers’ compensation benefits now cover only 21% of workers’ compensation liabilities–shifting 79% of the true cost to others, including the injured workers’ family and taxpayers–while our firsthand knowledge demonstrates the inadequacy of current benefit levels and the injustice of the AMA Guides, ODG Treatment Guidelines, Primary Cause, Medical Formularies and the literal evaporation of effective vocational rehabilitation for those injured workers who have lost access to their prior occupation.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. -1 Corinthians 15:58

I believe it will be the exponential participation of you, the existing member, which fosters our mission as much as the sheer addition of new members. The existential purpose of the organization must always be vigorous and exigent advocacy, not just growth and the collection plate. We must collect accomplishments, not only numbers.

Together we can do that, but we must have an active outreach program that communicates to the public, to the media and to state legislators the value of workers’ compensation and the cost of its failure. If business can focus-group a new Doritos flavor, I am confident we can use a similar approach identifying crux “reptile” talking points, plus distilling and building upon the points raised in the ProPublica series to focus our messaging.”

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Texas Trench Collapse Results in $400k OSHA Fine and 16 Safety Violations

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

On July 22, 2015, Hassell Construction Co. was cited by OSHA for 16 safety violations (including 6 egregious willful violations) and given a whopping $423,900 fine. Hassell Construction Co. is a construction company based in Richmond, Texas with about 150 employees that construct water and sewer lines around Houston, Texas. The employer was given 15 business days to comply with each citation, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the OSHA Health Review Commission.

These citations were given after a trench that was 8 feet below the ground collapsed in February crushing an unsuspecting employee. Luckily, the worker was dug out by his co-workers using their bare hands. The minute the worker was freed from the trench, the trench collapsed a second time.

According to OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas, John Hermanson, “Hassell Construction knew its trenches weren’t safe, but still put its workers in harm’s way.” Due to the fact that trench cave-ins such as the one in February are completely preventable OSHA has also placed the construction company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program which often inspects employers and mandates follow-up inspections to ensure that they are complying with the law. In North Carolina, a similar incident allowed the employee to sue the employer directly and overcome the exclusivity provision of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. Woodson v. Rowland. 373 S.E.2d 674 (1988).

Read about the citations here: https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/HassellConstruction_1031127_0722_15.pdf

Original Article 7/22/15 posted on WorkersCompensation.com.

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Workers’ Compensation Basics: What is a Workers’ Compensation Accident?

Today’s post comes from guest author Brody Ockander, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

This blog post is the third in a series that examines the basics of workers’ compensation.

To be a covered workers’ compensation claim, an employee’s personal injury must be caused by an accident or occupational disease, but what does that mean?

The Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act defines accident as: “an unexpected or unforeseen injury happening suddenly and violently, with or without human fault, and producing at the time objective symptoms of an injury. The claimant shall have a burden of proof to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that such unexpected or unforeseen injury was in fact caused by the employment. There shall be no presumption from the mere occurrence of such unexpected or unforeseen injury that the injury was in fact caused by the employment. …” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-151 (2)

Of course, many workers’ compensation injuries are not as simple or as clear as a broken arm that was the result of a fall. Some injuries are caused by repetitive motion or cumulative trauma on the job. In those cases, the injuries are still considered workers’ compensation “accidents” under the definition above, even though the injuries did not truly occur “suddenly and violently” as required by the statute. 

As for an occupational disease, the Workers’ Compensation Act defines it as “a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and shall exclude all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-151 (3) Examples to think about would be mesothelioma for asbestos workers or black lung for coal miners.

In sum, pretty much any injury or illness that an employee receives from work can fit into the definition of “accident” under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act. However, proving the injury is much more difficult and may require the help of a lawyer.

Read the previous blog posts in the series by clicking on these links: Workers’ Compensation Basics: Are You an Employee? and What is Workers’ Compensation?

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Is a Pulmonary Embolism Compensable under Workers’ Compensation?

Today’s post comes from guest author Brody Ockander, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

The short answer is yes, but it could be difficult to prove if it is not directly related to another workers’ compensation injury. In Nebraska, proving a pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) requires the same legal and medical causation tests as a heart attack or stroke (see Zissin v. Shanahan and Wingfield v. Hill Brothers Transportation, Inc.).

What that means is legal causation must be proved by showing that exertion or stress encountered during employment is greater than that experienced during the ordinary non-employment life. Then, it must also be proven by medical causation: i.e., show that the employment contributed in some material and substantial degree.

On the other hand, if someone develops DVT as a result of another injury caused by work, it would probably be much easier to meet the causation required to prove compensability. For example, let’s say a worker injures his knee during work and has surgery on that knee. Then, as a result of the surgery, a postoperative complication of DVT arises and eventually becomes a pulmonary embolism. In that scenario, the pulmonary embolism is clearly related to the work injury and clearly compensable.

Absent a prior injury, however, causation must be met by the standards stated above, which will be very fact intensive. An example of this scenario came up in the recent case, Wingfield v. Hill Brothers Transportation, Inc., 288 Neb. 174. In that case, a truck driver for 35 years asserted that his deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism was from sitting while driving a truck so long. The workers’ compensation court dismissed the cases, holding that the truck driver did not adequately prove legal and medical causation.

This case illustrates how difficult the causation standard is for pulmonary embolism cases that are not directly linked to a work injury. These types of cases will almost certainly require the assistance of a lawyer. 

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What is Workers’ Compensation?

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

This is the first installment of a series that will educate workers and their families about injury, disease and death resulting from work. The most basic question is: What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation is a legal system established in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and for federal employees. Workers’ compensation laws began in the United States in 1912. The laws are different in each state, but the basics of the law are quite similar in all states.

If a worker is injured, contracts a disease or dies as a result of work activities, all of the medical and burial expenses are to be paid by the employer. The employer is also responsible to pay for lost wages, physical disability, and mental disability. Workers’ compensation does not pay for pain and suffering and is generally limited in duration of payments, although some states pay lifetime benefits.

The balance of this series will go through the basic steps of how to obtain workers’ compensation benefit. The goal is to inform, which helps victims of workplace injury, disease or death receive proper compensation.

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“Independent” Medical Examinations in Workers’ Compensation (Anything but “Independent”)

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

“I thought their doctor Independent Medical Report was the last word on my case. I didn’t know any better.” 

This statement from a client I just met sums up the experience of many injured workers unfamiliar with the workers’ compensation process in Wisconsin (and many other states).

An insurance company or self-insured employer may request an injured worker submit to reasonable examinations by a physician, chiropractor, psychologist, dentist, podiatrist, physicians assistant, or Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner of its choice. Wis. Stat. §102.17(1)(b). This examination is usually referred to as an Independent Medical Examination or “IME” although “adverse medical examination” more accurately reflects the process.  An Independent Medical Examination may be requested by the insurance company or self-insured employer in order to determine whether the claim is compensable and the extent of the disability or the necessity and type of treatment. 

Since only about one in ten injured workers in Wisconsin is represented by an attorney, nine out of ten unrepresented workers are not aware that the insurance company’s “IME” is actually an adverse exam by a doctor hired by and paid by the insurance company to issue his report. Although IME examiners would deny they routinely render an opinion in favor of the insurance carrier, my forty years of experience suggests just that. For many years lawyers representing injured workers have been proposing the terminology “Adverse Medical Examination” apply to give represented and unrepresented workers a more fair assessment of the process. Many IMEs make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually performing these examinations. At one of these examinations, my client overheard the IME physician (who had rented a motel room) speaking to a prospective young doctor trying to convince that doctor to perform IMEs. “This is a great practice.” He said.  “All you have to do is review the medical records, meet with the worker for a few minutes, and deny the claim. And for that you can charge $1,500.” Although my client’s testimony to this effect was barred, the underlying accuracy of his testimony is undisputable.

Beware the “Independent” Medical Examination.

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Workers’ Compensation:  The Man-made Quagmire (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second part of a three-part series in which I explain why workers should claim their rights under workers’ compensation laws. The first installment explains how employers commonly and purposefully make it difficult for workers to claim comp. This second part explains ways in which workers’ compensation insurance companies (from here on our we’ll call them “insurers”) also throw up barriers to workers getting comp benefits.

It is worth noting that many employers – mostly large corporate employers – file for and obtain a certificate from the Iowa Division of Insurance to “self-insure” for purposes of workers’ compensation. These self-insured employers have offices filled with staff that carry out the same work and serve the same purposes as out-dwelling work comp insurers. They do the same things as out-dwelling insurers to bar coverage, also.  Thus, I will treat them as one entity – “the insurer.”

Our third segment will explain why other benefits and programs don’t come even close to providing what the worker receives in workers’ compensation. It’s unfortunate, but the best thing a worker can do is slog through this quagmire and make good on his or her rights in comp.


Again, researchers determined years ago that many barriers are erected by insurers. The insurers’ barriers don’t stop after the worker applies for comp. In fact, in my experience the insurers deter workers by making obtaining comp benefits so unpleasant and frustrating, that the workers with future injuries will opt to not claim comp, but rather try to make do with other benefits, if possible. The biggest reasons workers give up on their rights in workers’ compensation are due to the insurers’ conscious effort to frustrate, confuse and delay every aspect of the claims process. That, however, is exactly what should not happen in comp. Why do I say that? Because the Iowa Supreme Court has repeatedly said that for decades. According to the Court it’s a basic fact of Iowa worker’s compensation law “that the injured claimant is compensated swiftly, fairly and with the least possible ‘red tape.’” DeShaw v. Energy Mfg. Co., 192 N.W.2d 777, 784 (Iowa 1971)(citing Cross v. Hermanson Bros., 235 Iowa 739, 16 N.W.2d 616, 618 (1944)). Besides being fast in result, the process is supposed to incline in favor of the worker. Again, as stated by the Iowa Supreme Court, “we keep in mind that the primary purpose of chapter 85 [ed. the work comp code chapter] is to benefit the worker and so we interpret this law liberally in favor of the employee. Stone Container Corp. v. Castle, 657 N.W.2d 485, 489 (Iowa 2003).

So what should you do to protect your workers’ compensation rights when the insurer is ignoring them?

Part I: Dealing with the Insurer’s Persuasion Tactics

  1. The Adjuster – The Insurers’ First Fortress in the way of Every WC Claim

    People used to ask why I do not like adjusters. The reason is that very few of them (something less than 5% by my best estimate) have any goal but cutting costs for the insurer, no matter what means are used to do so. In light of that I most commonly file the claim early on so as to deal with the insurers’ lawyers rather than the adjuster. How does the adjuster form a barrier – a tough fort – standing in the way of a legitimate work comp claim?

    1. The Various Types of Obstructive Adjusters
      Adjusters commonly do several things that occur so frequently that I believe that these things are learned and practiced forms of conduct, which are designed to frustrate any injured worker. What things?
      1. The Absent Adjuster – most commonly the adjuster may never answer the phone, instead letting all of your calls go to voice-mail. Then, the adjuster will not return your calls.
      2. The Rude Adjuster – nearly as common is the adjuster who denies a claim without explanation and will be demeaning and condescending in refusing to be willing to explain anything. In a system in which the worker is usually without any way to know things, being put down and denied without explanation is a very effective method of driving the worker out.
      3. The 100% Purposely-Ineffective Adjuster – the adjuster many times will promise action on a benefit and may even set personal deadline to do so. Then, the adjuster fails to get the action and merely extends the time for the deadline, again and again. Again, this is a very effective means to drive a worker from the system because the benefits (both medical and money) are usually promptly needed.
  2. The Adjuster’s Wingman – The “Nurse Case Manager” Commonly the adjuster/insurer will assign a “nurse case manager” (hereinafter “NCM”) to your claim. The NCM is a “confidence person.” She (the NCM is always a female in my experience) will tell the worker and family that she is there to get better and more prompt care. In fact, the NCM almost invariably seeks to interfere with the minimal care that even a company doctor renders. In most cases the NCM will also do anything to persuade that the worker should be returned to work, whether safe or not. The only effective remedy I’ve found for the NCM who acts unreasonably in denying my clients care is to file a complaint with the Iowa Board of Nursing.
  3. Employer’s Choice of Medical – “Paul McAndrew’s best friend” Why is it my best friend? Because if the law allowed Iowa workers the right to choose their own medical care, more than half of the workers who come in and need me would no longer need me. Why say that? Because about 75% of the workers who come to my office do so only because they’ve been delayed, denied, and frustrated in getting timely and proper care, so much by the company doctor (usually in conjunction with the adjuster and NCM) that they can’t get back to work as they must and they come to me to merely get medical care. They don’t even want the benefits much. They want only to get healthy so they can get back to work and earn a living to support their family. How does the adjuster/NCM/company doctor bar proper and timely care? By these means:
    1. The Company “Hack” (General-Practice Doctor)
      There are many company doctors who are well known to the practicing work comp bar as being dedicated to one thing: Maintaining that doctor’s share of the insurers’ referral of injured workers by almost any means. This leads the doctor to be little more than a mouthpiece for the insurer. This takes the form of:
      1. Stating some uncouth reason why the injury did not arise out of and in course of (commonly called “cause” but very different than) work (e. g., the court reporter, Smith).
      2. Minimizing or even ignoring the worker’s injury condition until the worker is discharged to her/his own doctor, or just leaves due to frustration.
      3. Carrying the worker along over months of periodic clinic visits without any real effort to determine a diagnosis and treat that diagnosis.
    2. The Company “Sweetheart” (Specialist Doctor)
      This specialist—-commonly an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon—becomes the insurer’s favorite by always giving a favorable-to-the-insurer opinion. Again, the Sweethearts are well known to lawyers, but not to the worker.

Part II: The Insurers’ Tricks for Wrongfully Manipulating Care

  • Prompt Care/Unreasonable Delay in Providing Care
    This speaks for itself. It’s far and away the most common method of denying care—just delay it long enough and the worker’s life demands will cause the worker to turn elsewhere for care. This is easily overcome with the Alternate Care Procedure, briefly described here.
  • When the Authorized Doctor Recommends Care that the Insurance Company Denies
  • When the Authorized Doctor Refers to another Doctor and the Insurance Company Denies or tries to Refer, instead, to its “Sweetheart”
  • When the Authorized Doctor orders care and, Instead, the Insurance Company tries to “Transfer Care” to a Sweetheart Who Will Likely say what the Insurance Company Wants to Hear
  • When the only Care Offered is not Convenient Care. This is now standardized: if the care offered is more than 50 miles from the worker’s home and the same type of care is offered closer, then the 50+ – care is “inconvenient.” Remember the “convenience” requirement applies only to “care.” Unfortunately, it does not apply to the company’s right to send the worker for a medico-legal, one-time “independent medical examination.”

 


Alternate Care Process

The Iowa Legislature enacted in 1913 the comp’s system’s healthcare provision method. Iowa Code 85.27. 85.27 provides that the employer has the right to make the initial selection of care. In this regard, Iowa is only one of ten out of the fifty states and the United States (under FECA (Federal Employee Comp Act) and the Long Shore Act) that provide the employer with such unfettered power. For years, a worker had to wait months or more than a year to get to the final hearing to challenge the insurance company’s denial of care.

In 1992, however, Commissioner Byron Orton drafted a provision that was accepted by consensus of all interest groups and enacted into law, which create the “alternate care process.” This process allows the worker to obtain prompt relief for the denial of proper care. The process is relatively simple and designed to be carried out by a worker or union representative.

NOTE: While Section 85.27 gives the employer the right to select care, that right is qualified. The care provided must be (1) prompt, (2) reasonably suited to treat the injury and (3) without undue inconvenience to the claimant. Westside Transport v. Cordell, 601 N.W. 2d619, 694 (Iowa 1999). The failure of the employer to provide care meeting any of these three requirements gives the worker the right to bring an alternate-care procedure and have the Division of Workers’ Comp. order proper care be provided.

The Steps for Filing and Prosecuting ON YOUR OWN an Alternate Care Claim

  1. Before filing, the worker must communicate the basis of her/his dissatisfaction with the care (or lack of care) offered by the employer. If you don’t, the filing will be dismissed. Communicate dissatisfaction in writing or the employer will likely deny that there was communication.
  2. File on the form provided by the Commissioner. This form can easily be obtained at http://www.iowaworkforce.org/wc/publications.htm. There is no cost/filing fee. Make sure you send a copy of the form to your employer, also, as explained on the form.
  3. When filling out the form, ensure you state: (A) The specific medical treatment sought; (B) the grounds why what’s offered (if anything) is not proper (for example, “not prompt,” “not convenient,” or “not proper care for the injury condition,” etc.); and (C) that you ask for hearing by telephone.
  4. Alternative medical care proceedings are only prospective in nature. Bills for prior care will need to be adjudicated about a year later in the primary hearing.
  5. The grand majority of alternate care hearings are heard by phone.
  6. Alternate Care Procedures Yield Prompt Results. Why? Because by law the commissioner must both hear the alternate care matter by phone and issue the decision on the matter within ten (10) days of the filing of the alternate care petition.

Please join us next week for Part 3: Why it’s Important to Receive Comp.

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Stop Work Orders In Massachusetts Created $1.4 Million In Fines And Obtained Coverage For Over 5,000 Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council has released its Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report (PDF link). This report contains some eyebrow-raising statistics. Between 2008 and 2014, Massachusetts was able to help over 50,000 workers receive coverage due to Stop Work Orders (SWOs). In 2014 alone the Agency was able to obtain insurance for over 5,000 workers who previously had no workers’ compensation coverage.

Stop Work Orders are issued to employers who are operating without workers’ compensation insurance. An investigator is sent to the worksite and if an order is issued, the employer must cease business operations immediately. Fines will then be given starting at $100 per day until penalties are paid and the company secures insurance.

In Fiscal Year 2014, there were 5,785 Field Investigations resulting in 2,150 SWOs issued and $1,430,599 in fines collected. While SWOs are in effect, employees are still paid for the first ten days out-of-work due to the order and the days missed are considered “days worked.” In addition to the fines that the employer receives, they will be added to a debarment list preventing them from bidding or participating in any state or municipal contracts for three years.

 

Original post on www.mass.gov/lwd/workers-compensation in April 2015.