Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

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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.

 

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Death on the Job Annual Report from AFL-CIO Informative, Useful

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

The AFL-CIO’s annual report about “the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers” has been written about in a previous year on this blog. The recently released 2015 version focuses in an in-depth manner on data from 2013 and includes around 200 pages of text, tables, details and information, along with a bit of jargon.

The report is extremely informative, and Nebraska and Iowa’s numbers will be examined in more detail in future blog posts, as these are states where the firm’s attorneys are licensed.

The report can also feel overwhelming once a person processes through the fact the each numeral on each chart represents the death of one person due to the workplace. There is also a ripple effect, as each person represented here had loved ones who both cared about and relied on that person. And for many involved, their lives changed drastically when their loved one died.

I appreciate the work, funding, thoughtfulness and effort put into compiling and analyzing the data, which includes a methodology section at the end of the report.

Here’s some sobering information from the summary.

“In 2013, 4,585 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions.

“Nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but many injuries are not reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater, or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries each year.”

States with the highest fatality rate in the nation include a couple of relative neighbors: North Dakota and Wyoming. West Virginia, Alaska and New Mexico round out the top five. Lowest state fatality rates in 2013 were Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut and Massachusetts (tied) and New York and Rhode Island (tied).

Please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer if you or a loved one is hurt on the job or has questions about job safety.

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Poverty And Social Insurance

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

My business-owning friends harp constantly about “entitlements,” which, they say, cost them money in taxes and premiums. I routinely reply that these programs are a social safety net, the small price we pay to live together relatively peacefully  in a “civilized” nation.

My friend and Iowa workers’ comp colleague Paul Mc Andrew sent me an email that sums up this concept succinctly:

Did you know that in 2013, there were more than 25 million reasons to give thanks for social insurance? According to Census Bureau data released this fall, more than 45 million people in the U.S., or 14.5% of the nation, lived in poverty in 2013. The good news? Three vitally important social insurance programs – Social Security, unemployment insurance (UI), and workers’ compensation – and a related program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), kept the poverty rate from being much higher. Together, these four programs kept more than 25 million people out of poverty.

Workers’ Compensation alone lifted 87,000 people out of poverty in 2013, including:

  • 16,000 children; and
  • 60,000 non-elderly adults; and
  • 11,000 elderly adults aged 65+

−−Elisa Walker, National Academy of Social Insurance

We workers’ comp lawyers can only help one injured workers at a time, but collectively…..

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Yes, Monetary Benefits Are Available For Injured Volunteer Firefighters

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

I recently read the news about a benefit fundraiser being held for the widow of a Long Island volunteer firefighter who died in the line of duty when the floor he was on during a fire collapsed. The volunteer, only 43 year old, left behind a widow and a 19-year-old daughter.  He had served his community for 17 years as a volunteer and in addition, worked for the Nassau County Public Workers Department. This tragedy once again reminds us of the dangers of the firefighting profession.

Most New York City residents are protected by a paid force of brave men and women who are employed by the City. The Fire Department of New York is the largest municipal fire department in the United States, employing more than 10,000 uniformed firefighters. I am proud to say that my brother Danny serves as a Lieutenant in the FDNY, and my brother Bob and my dad are both retired from the force.   

There are still nine volunteer fire companies left in New York City that respond to calls in their neighborhoods; more than half of them are located in Queens – West Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways. As these men and women are not compensated for their service to their communities, most of them have paying jobs elsewhere. However, they are still entitled to benefits if they are ever injured on the job. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Law provides benefits for those volunteers injured in the “line of duty” or engaged in activities pursuant to orders or authorization. These duties include, but are not limited to, participation in fire drills; travel to and from fire calls or authorized activities; firehouse duties; property inspections; attendance at fire instruction and training; and authorized drills, parades, funerals, reviews or tournaments. An “injury” includes any disablement of a volunteer firefighter that results from services performed in the line of duty and any disease that may arise from an injury.    

Monetary benefits include payments for loss of earning capacity up to $400 per week, death benefits to surviving spouse and/or minor children up to $800 per week, and schedule loss-of-use awards based upon loss of function to a limb, loss of vision, loss of hearing, and facial disfigurements. Additional monetary awards are given to cover funeral expenses. Furthermore, volunteer members are entitled to receive necessary medical care for treatment and recovery from their disabilities. Notice must be given to the proper party within 90 days of the incident, and claims must be filed within two years of the accident or death. 

In many instances the monetary awards are inadequate to properly compensate an injured volunteer or a surviving spouse or child of a hero. The fact that a fundraiser is even necessary for the family of the firefighter who was killed in Long Island is inconceivable. While it is clear that Volunteer Firefighter benefits will never truly compensate for those who are injured or killed on the job, the knowledge that there are benefits available will hopefully ease some of the financial strains for those in our community who serve. I saw a wonderful quote recently that said “volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” So to those who serve, I am truly grateful, and to the family of fallen hero Joseph Sanford, Jr.  – his sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.   

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Is Your Job Causing Asthma or Making It Worse?

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

The spring allergy season that also causes asthma concerns is upon us, and this is especially evident in the Great Plains, where the wind blows dust and pollen throughout most days. 

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 16 percent of American adults had asthma that was either caused or aggravated by conditions at work. According to the National Institutes of Health, workers who are regularly exposed to chemicals and dust, such as millers, bakers, woodworkers and farm workers, are most vulnerable to work-related asthma. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that adults lose 14 million work days per year because of asthma. 

In terms of Nebraska, this means that approximately 134,400 days of work are missed in Nebraska due to work-related asthma. In Iowa, that number is closer to 224,000 days of work that are missed because of work-related asthma. This is an estimate of missed days nationwide in proportion to the population of the states. 

Workers should make sure their employers are providing safety equipment that protects against respiratory injury. Employees should make sure they are carrying inhalers in the workplace if they have been prescribed them by a doctor for asthma. 

But if a worker suspects their work is causing breathing problems or making pre-existing asthma worse, they should report that as a workers’ compensation injury and seek treatment with a specialist in treating breathing conditions. Medical bills for treating asthma should be covered like any other work injury, and any lost time because of work-related asthma should entitle an employee to temporary disability for lost time and permanent disability for permanent breathing problems. 

Work-related asthma would also be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under similar state laws. Further, an employee has protection against retaliation under most states’ laws, including Nebraska and Iowa, as well as under federal law, for reporting work conditions that cause asthma and/or from claiming workers’ compensation benefits for work-related asthma.