Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ Compensation Fraud – North Carolina Statistics for 2014 – 2015

Several months ago, the North Carolina Industrial Commission published their Annual Report for 2014 – 2015. Based on the Annual Report, employer fraud was by far the overwhelming majority of investigated fraud in the North Carolina workers’ compensation system.

 

The Annual Report tracked investigations of suspected fraud and violations related to workers’ compensation involving employees, employers, insurers, health care providers, attorneys, and rehabilitation providers. The total figure of fraud investigations for 2014 – 2015 was 1,474 cases. Of those 1,474 cases, 1,336 cases related to employer fraud. That means that 90.64% of the investigated workers’ comp fraud was fraud on the part of the employer.  Whereas there were 129 cases of suspected employee fraud (i.e. 8.75% of the total investigated fraud cases).

 

The silver lining? Of the employer fraud that was prosecuted, the State of North Carolina was able to collect nearly $1,000,000 in revenue just in 2014 – 2015 in fraud penalties paid by noncompliant employers. 

Insult to Injury: ProPublica’s Series “Demolition of Workers’ Compensation” Focuses on Ongoing Workers’ Comp Woes Faced by Injured Workers Nationally

Recent years have not been favorable to injured workers. States across the nation have enacted “reform” measures curbing injured workers benefits. Disability caps have been introduced, medical care restricted. In our last blog, we discussed Oklahoma’s Opt Out provisions as an example of the court system declaring that the legislature had legislated away too much of the injured worker’s protections. A couple years ago, Florida workers’ comp laws were declared unconstitutional by a judge. Although the decision was later reversed, the Florida judge (Judge Cueto) expressed concerns regarding the loss of an employee’s right to wage-loss benefits after an accident.  

 

NPR and ProPublica have been authoring an in-depth series on national workers’ compensation issues. ProPublica reviewed “reams of insurance industry data” and their findings confirmed what many workers’ compensation attorneys suspected for years:  insurance companies are increasingly controlling medical decisions, workers are unable to pick their own doctor in many states, and insurers are denying medical care based on internal “guidelines.”

 

As an example, ProPublica’s article talks about a case in California where the insurance company reopened an old case and denied medical care based on the opinion of a doctor who never even saw the patient. “Joel Ramirez, who was paralyzed in a warehouse accident, had his home health aide taken away, leaving him to sit in his own feces for up to eight hours.”

 

The article also brings up a good point about workers’ comp fraud. Repeatedly studies show “most of the money lost to fraud results not from workers making false claims but from employers misclassifying workers and underreporting payroll to get cheaper insurance rates.”

 

Oklahoma Commission Says Workers’ Comp “Opt Out” Not OK

Ever since Oklahoma employers were allowed to “opt out” of the workers’ compensation system in 2013, nearly 60 big employers have chosen the “opt out” path. By opting out, these large corporations (like Wal-Mart and Big Lots) are no longer constrained by the requirements of the Oklahoma State workers’ compensation laws. Instead they are allowed to create their own internal workers’ compensation system playing under their rules and definitions.

According to a NPR study these opt out plans “ . . . provide fewer benefits, make it easier for employers to deny benefits, give employers control over medical assessment and treatment, and leave appeals in the hands of employers, and force workers to accept lump-sum settlements.”

However, just last week, the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission unanimously declared two sections of the “Oklahoma Employee Injury Benefit Act” (a/k/a Oklahoma’s Opt Out law) unconstitutional. According to the Commission, the Opt Out provisions deprived injured workers of equal protection and access to the court. The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission called the opt out plans “a water mirage on the highway that disappears upon closer inspection.”

Here is a link to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation opinion filed 26 February 2016. The ruling will likely be appealed and we can expect to hear much more about these Oklahoma opt-out plans in the near future.

 

 

 

Panthers’ Super Bowl Football Player (Thomas Davis) Joins the Big Game While Still Recovering from Surgery (or, in Work Comp Terms Panthers’ Employee Returns Full-Duty Pre-MMI)

Super Bowl 50 what a game! As a Panthers’ fan, it was depressing to see our usually high-scoring offense crushed by the Broncos’ defense. However, the Panthers’ defense kept us in the game until the bitter end. The dedication of Thomas Davis, a Panthers’ linebacker, was quite a site. Davis, who sustained a broken forearm in an earlier game, played through Super Bowl 50 with a surgically implanted plate and 11 screws in his right forearm. Davis shared a post-surgical photo after the Super Bowl on social media. In his post, Davis said:

This post is not about me, or how tough I am. It’s not to shine any light on me or my injuries. Our team doctors and trainers did an amazing job giving me an opportunity to get back on the field. This post is strictly to show how much love I have for my brothers and #PantherNation. Thank you all for your support and we will #KeepPounding.-TD

Take a look at the photo (if you’re not too squeamish) and you will be amazed that Davis played through the Super Bowl with over 20 stitches. Clearly, Davis is a strong individual. His decision to join the game, despite his injuries, was not taken lightly and was made with the consultation of his treating physicians.

Like Davis, many injured workers are extremely eager to return to work. Whenever possible, and medically acceptable, returning to work is the best option for the injured worker and the employer. However, the decision to return to work after an injury must be carefully evaluated. All too frequently, our firm receives calls from injured workers who prematurely rush back to work only to find out they can’t perform their old job duties. Sadly, their employer, although understanding at first, becomes frustrated with the injured worker’s physical constraints and the injured worker is terminated. Under these circumstances, the injured worker may have an additional cause of action (retaliatory discharge claim) but the end result could have been avoided if they monitored their recovery carefully and focused on healing before returning to work. 

I was injured at home while working for my employer. Am I entitled to workers’ compensation benefits?

We’ve all seen the ads for “work from home” jobs (spoiler alert – many are scams). However, corporations like Apple, IBM, CVS, and many, many more are frequently advertising work-from-home or telecommuter jobs to employees thus providing a flexible work schedule. The question then arises – what happens if the telecommuting employee is injured at home? For example, what if the employee is injured during a personal coffee break? What if he slips on his driveway? Or, if she trips over her pet while walking to her van to get work supplies?

 

In deciding on whether an employee’s injury may be compensable, courts have generally considered (1) how regularly the employee works from home, (2) the presence of work equipment at home (e.g. work computer or corporate phone), and/or (3) other conditions particular to that employment that make it necessary for the employee to work from home. The courts specifically look to whether the employee is working from home for his or her convenience, or if it’s necessary from the employer’s standpoint that the employee work from home (e.g. there is no other suitable place of employment offered by the employer).

 

For example, in Utah, the Court of Appeals held that a sales manager who was spreading salt on his driveway in anticipation of an important business delivery sustained a compensable slip and fall at work. The Court determined that the manager’s motivation in spreading the salt was to assist the employer’s business. [AE Clevite Inc. v. Labor Comm’n, 2000 UT App. 35, 996 P.2d 1072 (2000)]. Also, where a custom decorator for J.C. Penney was walking out to her van in her garage to get fabric samples and tripped over her dog, that injury was also compensable [Sandburg v. J.C. Penney Co, Inc., 260 P.3d 496 (2011)]. The Court explained that the home premises was also her work premises and the decorator had to keep samples in her van to show potential customers.

 

The bottom line is that when telecommuters are injured at home during the actual performance of their jobs, regardless of how insignificant, the injury may be compensable.

 

Call “Reform” What It Is: Death By A Thousand Cuts For Workers’ Rights

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

This week I attended the 20th anniversary of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG) in Chicago. I am a proud past president of this group – the only national Workers’ Compensation bar association dedicated to representing injured workers.  

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I have seen their rights and benefits shrink under the guise of “reform”. After the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which killed almost 150 women and girls, workplace safety and Workers’ Compensation laws were enacted. For the next half century or so, many protections and safeguards were implemented. However, many of these reforms were not sufficient, and in 1972, the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws, appointed by then-President Nixon, issued a report noting that state Workers’ Compensation laws were neither adequate nor equitable. This led to a decade when most states significantly improved their laws. 

Unfortunately, there has once more been a steady decline in benefits to injured workers, again under the guise of reform. One major argument is that many workers are faking their injuries or they just want to take time off from work. There was even a recent ad campaign in which a young girl was crying because her father was going to jail for faking an injury. Workers’ Compensation fraud does exist, but the high cost of insurance fraud is not as a result of workers committing fraud.

A colleague of mine compiled a list of the top 10 Workers’ Compensation fraud cases in 2014 in which he noted that the top 10 claims of fraud cost taxpayers well more than $75 million dollars with $450,000 of the total amount resulting from a worker committing insurance fraud. That leaves $74.8 million as a result of non-employee fraud, including overbilling and misclassification of workers. We are told that insurance costs are too high; yet, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) in 2014, estimates show that private Workers’ Compensation carriers will have pulled in $39.3 billion in written premiums, the highest since they began keeping data in 1990. More premiums result in higher net profits. Despite this, many states have implemented changes in their Workers’ Compensation systems aimed at reducing costs to the employer. The end results, however, is that fewer benefits are given to the injured worker and more profits go to the insurance companies.

In New York, one of the reform measures increased the amount of money per week to injured workers but limited the amount of weeks they can receive these benefits with the idea that they will return to work once their benefits run out. Additionally, limitations have been placed on the amount and types of treatment that injured workers may receive. Again, this is with the notion that once treatment ends, injured workers miraculously are healed and will not need additional treatment. In reality, those injured who can’t return to work receive benefits from other sources from state and federal governments at the taxpayer’s expense.  This is what is known as cost shifting, as those really responsible to pay for benefits – the insurance companies who collect the premiums from the employers – have no further liability. The reformers of 100 years ago would be appalled at what is happening to injured workers and their families today. It is time that those who are generating profits at the expense of injured workers do what is fair and just – provide prompt medical care and wage replacement to injured workers for as long as they are unable to work.

To stay on top of important Workers’ Compensation happenings, please visit the Facebook page of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP and “Like Us.” That way you will receive the latest news on your daily feed.

 

 

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.

 

OSHA Fines Nebraska Railcar Almost $1 Million after Explosion

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

The incident referred to in this article was extremely tragic, as two workers were killed in April. Now OSHA has found that Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services knew “that moments before the blast, an air quality check indicated a serious risk of an explosion. OSHA says that despite the warning, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent two employees into the railcar to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, nor providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.”

Sympathies continue to go to the loved ones of both Dallas Foulk and Adrian LaPour.

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program and fined $963,000 for “seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations.”

In addition, the article said the EPA is doing an investigation regarding the company’s hazardous-waste disposal.

For those who argue that businesses have safety and the best interests of their workers in mind, please read the article linked to above, and really think about that philosophy, especially when an explosion led to workers dying. Then read the quote from the article below and ask yourself about workplace safety again.

“This company has regularly failed to use appropriate equipment and procedures to keep their employees safe, and in this case it had tragic consequences,” Jeff Funke, OSHA Area Director in Omaha, said in a written statement. “The company needs to immediately reevaluate its procedures for entering and cleaning railcars.”

States with Opt-Out Workers’ Comp System are Strict on Injured Workers

Dallas attorney Bill Minick (Photo credit Dylan Hollingsworth for ProPublica)

Texas and Oklahoma have both adopted an “opt-out” system for Workers’ Compensation. ProPublica along with NPR recently published an in-depth look at the results in these two states. Under this system, employers can opt-out of state mandated workers’ compensation insurance by creating their own policy for injured workers. These employer-written policies give employers 100% control over the terms, the benefits, and even settlements.

Specifically, ProPublica and NPR found that these employer-created policies generally have strict 24-hour reporting requirements or even require an injury to be reported by the end of a shift. This means, if an employee does not report their injury within their shift, or within 24 hours, they are prevented from bringing a claim at all. Period. End of discussion. Employers can also dictate how much benefits will be paid and some employers have capped death benefits for employees who are killed at work at $250,000. Whereas under the State Workers’ Compensation system, if a deceased worker leaves behind minor children, they will continue to receive benefits until they turn 18 (which could easily end up being well over $250,000 when you factor in lost wages until the worker would have been 65). This is potentially detrimental to a young widow or widower who is left with very young children.

Yesterday we tweeted a recent ABC news article that a worker was killed when he fell at a construction site in Charlotte. I’d hate to think that his or her family would be limited to recovering only $250,000 in the event the worker left behind dependent family members and young children. Money can’t begin to replace someone who is lost to us too early from an accident at work, but $250,000 would hardly cover a lifetime of income that the family will lose, especially if young children are left behind.

 

To read more on how the Opt-Out system is affecting injured workers in Texas and Oklahoma, go to: ProPublica: Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.