Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ Compensation May Cover Weight Loss Treatment, Surgery

Gastric bypass is one type of weight loss surgery

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

We are currently unaware of any Wisconsin decisions related to a claim for gastric bypass surgery within the context of a worker’s compensation claim. In Wisconsin, a carrier is responsible for medical treatment that is reasonable and necessary to cure from the effects of the work injury. I could see arguments for and against the compensability of a gastric bypass surgery after a work injury.

Obesity is a disease that affects Americans in many ways.

Workers’ compensation is affected by obesity as well. A work injury or disease, coupled with chronic obesity, frequently becomes much more difficult to deal with. The usual methods of treatment may not be possible for an injured worker living with chronic obesity. 

Thomas A. Robinson, a noted expert on workers’ compensation, recently posted a great discussion on obesity treatment. The well-written article discusses how various state workers’ compensation systems deal with these problems. The short answer is some states award benefits for treating obesity as part of the work injury, and some don’t. Nebraska and Iowa have cases denying gastric bypass surgery based on factual findings that it was not necessary to treat the work injury, but leaving to door open with more proof of medical necessity. 

Our firm has had at least one case where gastric bypass surgery was paid voluntarily when it was apparent the surgery was necessary to enable proper treatment of a serious work injury. A workers’ compensation trial award was entered in early January awarding gastric bypass surgery as necessary to reduce weight so a back surgery could be performed safely. This award reinforces that with proof of medical necessity to treat a work injury, weight loss treatment and surgery may be covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska.

“No Trauma” Does Not Mean No Injury

I’ve been investigating Wisconsin and national fraud statistics in worker’s compensation to prepare for a national presentation I am making in Cape Cod in July. One fascinating and recurring basis for denial of worker’s comp claims (and potential claims against employees for fraud) stems from an insurance carrier’s review of the initial medical report.

Often the physician or emergency room nurse, physicians assistant or First Responder will ask an injured worker “Did you have any trauma?” If the answer to the question is “no”, the medical records will routinely indicate “no trauma”. This information is translated by the insurance carrier as a denial that an injury occurred. The level of medical sophistication for an injured worker is routinely limited. Most of my clients (and based on inquiries with other workers’ attorneys, their clients as well) believe a trauma is something akin to getting hit by a bus. They do not equate the notion of trauma with lifting a heavy object such as a table or a box. The criteria for traumatic injuries in most states, including Wisconsin, is that a single incident or episode caused the injury or aggravated a pre-existing condition beyond a normal progression. In many cases a lack of “traumatic injury” at the initial medical presentation is not an accurate indication of whether a traumatic injury actually occurred.

Occupational Disease: New Cancer Study and Firefighters

Worker’s compensation has provided benefits or coverage for occupational diseases for generations.  In Wisconsin an occupational disease is one acquired as a result of working in an industry over an extended period of time. An occupational disease cannot result from a single incident, but rather it is the result of a disease process. Wisconsin has not excluded any occupational diseases from its worker’s compensation benefit provisions. One of those disease processes is cancer. 

Studies are done regularly to determine the cause of disease as medical science advances. A recent study concludes that smoke and chemical exposure by firefighters may cause higher rates of cancer among firefighters. Firefighters, while usually healthier than the general population, have a higher incidence of cancer. A presumption of employment connected cancer exists for firefighters in Wisconsin. The statute applies to any State, County, or municipal firefighter who has worked for ten years with at least two-thirds of the working hours as a firefighter who has cancer of the skin, breast, central nervous system, or lymphatic, digestive, hematological, urinary, skeletal, oral, or reproductive symptoms. For that firefighter whose disability or death is caused by cancer, the finding is presumptive evidence that the cancer was caused by employment. Note, however, no presumption exists for firefighters who smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products for claims after January 1, 2001. Benefits for firefighters include Temporary Total Disability, Permanent Partial Disability, and if the disease (either heart or lung) precludes a return to work, duty disability payable at 75% of the firefighter’s salary, may also apply. 

As medicine and science evolve, there may be more recognized “occupational” diseases and more workers and their families compensated for harm caused by the workplace.

Is Worker’s Comp Profitable Because Disabled Workers Don’t Get Benefits?

I recently wrote an article in the national magazine for the Worker’s Injury Law Advocacy Group (WILG), the Worker’s First Watch, Fall 2013 reviewing the worker’s compensation resources research report indicating that the worker’s compensation industry is extremely profitable.  I began representing injured workers in 1976.  It seems every year since then worker’s compensation insurance carriers have complained they are not making profits and the culprit responsible is increased benefits paid to workers.  In fact, over the last 20 years the insurance industry has been profitable in 16 of 19 years and broke even in one year.  Several factors account for this profitability, including worker’s compensation insurance carriers successfully pursuing deregulation and “reform” measures to restrict eligibility. 

The net result of increasingly restrictive rules for compensability in many State worker’s compensation systems as a result of “reform” resulted in many workers with disabilities caused by work who did not receive worker’s compensation benefits.

The general trend since the early 1990s has been to restrict coverage through State statutory and administrative “reform”.  Many workers face lengthy litigation and frustration.  More restrictive regulations may preclude claims where the worker lacks “objective” medical evidence for his injury, or is unable to medically document persistent pain, or has a disease resulting from multiple causation that cannot be distinguished from workplace disease, or has job stress related disorders.  One significant problem is that many injured workers fail to file for benefits.  (For those of us in the trenches daily, these pose obstacles to compensability.)  Among the many reasons for failure to file are:

  • Ignorance of worker’s compensation and eligibility.
  • Ignorance of the work-relatedness of the condition.  (Many workers know they suffer an impairment but do not know the health condition is caused by work.)
  • Reimbursement for medical care or Short Term Disability benefits available.  (Many workers use Short Term Disability or group medical insurance rather than worker’s comp.)
  • Belief that the injury is lacking in sufficient severity.
  • Many workers fear job loss or other forms of retaliation, who do not want to report a condition as work-related.
  • Workers do not want to be perceived as complainers or careless.
  • Deciding not to file based on the negative experience of co-workers.
  • Fear of the stigma associated with being a worker’s compensation claimant.  (Much of this stems from the intense focus on fraud perpetrated by the insurance industry, resulting in increased levels of stigmatization, decreasing the likelihood injured workers will file for benefits.)
  • Pressure from co-workers on safety incentive programs.  (These programs, sometimes called “Safety Bingo” create incentives not to report.)

Those of us who have hearings daily that involve the non-reporting of an injury, or significant time delay between the occurrence of an injury and the reporting of an injury, can refer to the above list for some ammunition on the “non-filing” or “late filing” issues.

College Athletes Unionized? They Must Be Employees First

Northwestern University Quarterback Kain Colter

Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter announced plans to form the first labor union for college athletes. The College Athletes Players Association, in concert with the Steel Workers (who have agreed to pay the legal bills for the effort) will try to unionize college athletes. The big question: whether college athletes can be considered employees.  If certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the union will be called the College Athletes Players Association. In order for the association to be recognized as a union, the players have to prove they are employees and that the NCAA or each school is its employer. Most experts indicate this is an uphill legal fight.

Worker’s compensation lawyers see everything through the prism of worker’s compensation law. Most State statutory schemes presume that a worker is an employee, except where the employee may be considered a volunteer or an independent contractor. Where the top five power conferences ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big Twelve generate nearly $10 billion annually, it is hard to claim players are “volunteers” in this system.

Some college athletes who have been seriously injured have filed worker’s compensation claims. Those claims have all been dismissed on the notion that the injured player was not a “employee” and thus not entitled to benefits. (see our prior blog posts on this issue

Athletes who successfully use their college careers as a platform for a later career in professional sports are not the norm. In many situations, college players are injured, precluding any further athletic career for pay. There is no compensation awarded for this lost potential career. Furthermore, if an athlete is injured while on campus, once they leave school or graduate, the school generally does not covered future medical costs for that injury.  

Worker’s compensation lawyers will be monitoring the case with interest.

Construction Site Falls – Leading Cause of Fatalities in the Construction Industry

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

On January 23, 2014, a young man, only 30 years old, fell to his death while working on a Raleigh construction site. According to news reports, the deceased was working on scaffolding on an apartment complex and fell approximately five stories. The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating the accident. It’s unclear exactly what went wrong.

Unfortunately, this was the second construction accident within one week in Raleigh. On January 22, 2014, a platform collapsed at North Carolina State University and three workers were injured. Fortunately, none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening. However, one of the injuries involved a trauma to the head which is always cause for serious concern.

Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. According to OSHA, the four main causes for workplace falls are (1) unprotected sides, wall openings, and floor holes, (2) improper scaffold construction, (3) unguarded protruding steel rebars, and (4) the misuse of portable ladders.

In North Carolina, we follow the “unexplained-fall rule” which holds that “if an employee sustains a fall and there is no evidence that it arose from a cause independent of the employment, compensation [i.e. disability and medical benefits] should be allowed.” North Carolina Workers’ Compensation: Law and Practice, with Forms, 4th Edition, Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr.

While workers’ compensation benefits should be provided in these type of cases, in some situations the injured worker may also have a personal injury claim against one of the building contractors. 

$46 Million Stolen: 2013′s Top Ten Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

Professor Leonard T. Jernigan Jr. has compiled a list of 2013′s Top 10 Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

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

Employer Fraud Cases (9):$44,962,492.00
Employee Fraud Cases (1): $1,500,000.00
Total: $46,462,492.00

Every year we hear about fraud in Workers’ Compensation cases and the public believes the fraud is employee driven. However, in 2009 I began tracking the Top Ten Fraud Cases and 100% of the Top Ten between 2009-2012 involved employers or shady characters posing as legitimate businesses. The amount of employer fraud is staggering. In 2013 one employee fraud case did crack the Top Ten, so the record is now 49-1 (employer fraud v. employee fraud) over the past five years.

  1. Florida: Owners of Diaz Supermarkets in Miami-Dade are Accused of $35 Million Fraud (4/16/13)

    John Diaz

    John Diaz and his wife Mercedes Avila-Diaz owned and operated four supermarkets in the Miami-Dade area. They have been arrested and accused of workers’ compensation fraud and other fraudulent transactions totaling $35 million. One business they operated had no coverage for employees for ten years. They allegedly engaged in a scam to help subcontractors obtain false certificates of insurance that allowed the subs to work for general contractors who required the certificates.

  2. California: Hanford Farm Labor Contractor Convicted of Fraud in the Amount of $4,195,900 (12/6/2013)

    Richard Escamilla, Jr.

    Richard Escamilla, Jr. (47), owner of ROC Harvesting, misrepresented information to workers’ compensation insurance carriers by using new business names to obtain insurance and avoid providing a claim history. Escamilla pleaded guilty on October 29th and was sentenced to pay restitution of $4.1 million and serve six years in prison.

  3. Michigan: Insurance Executive Embezzled $2.6 Million from Workers’ Comp TPA (06/06/2013)

    Jerry Stage

    Jerry Stage (67), the former CEO of a non-profit workers’ compensation insurance company, and George Bauer (55), the bookkeeper, both pleaded guilty to embezzling from the Compensation Advisory Organization of Michigan (CAOM) for more than a decade. Mr. Stage embezzled $2.6 million from the company and conspired with Mr. Bauer to cover up the embezzlement.

  4. California: Employee Wasn’t Wheelchair Bound After All – Fraudulently Took $1.5 Million in Benefits (8/9/13)

    Yolandi Kohrumel

    Yolandi Kohrumel, 35, claimed for nine years that she was wheelchair bound after complications from toe surgery, but after she had collected $1.5 million in benefits it was revealed her claim was false. Her father, a South African native, was also engaged in the scam. Both pleaded guilty to insurance fraud, grand theft and perjury. Ms Kohrumel was sentenced to one year in jail, plus restitution.

  5. California: Father and Son Landscapers Accused of $1.45 Million in Insurance Fraud (5/7/13)

    Sunshine Landscaping

    Jesse Garcia Contreras (57) and Carlos Contreras (33), who operate a Thousand Palms landscaping business, are accused of committing $1.45 million in insurance fraud. They are accused of defrauding the California State Compensation Insurance Fund by misclassifying employees from January 2008 to March 2012. Mr. Jesse Contreras is the president and CEO of Sunshine Landscaping and his son is Director of Accounting. If convicted, they each face up to 19 years and 8 months in prison.

  6. Florida: Workers’ Compensation Check Cashing Operation Charged with $1 Million in Fraud (2/27/13)

    As a result of its investigation of I&T Financial Services, LLC, a company that was allegedly set up to execute a large scale check cashing scheme for the purpose of evading the cost of workers’ compensation coverage. Domenick Pucillo, the ringleader of the fraud scheme, was arrested and charged with filing a false and fraudulent document, forgery, uttering a forged instrument, and operating an unlicensed money service business. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 45 years in prison. $1 million was seized during this investigation.

  7. California & North Carolina: Cleaning Company Owner Convicted of Underreporting Payroll and Ordered to Pay $898,000 (8/3/2013)

    L. D. Hardas, President of Awesome Products Inc., said support from the community and the state was key to bringing his company to Mount Airy.

    The president of Awesome Products, a cleaning company in California, was convicted and sentenced for underreporting his payroll by over $8 million, resulting in a premium loss of $898,000. Loksarang Dinkar Hardas (53) was sentenced to five years in state prison, stayed pending successful completion of 10 years of formal probation, a $250,000 fine, and restitution payment of $898,000. Notwithstanding his conviction, the town of Mount Airy, N.C was standing by Mr. Hardas and willing to give his company taxpayer money in hopes that Awesome Products would build a manufacturing facility and create jobs in Surry County, N.C.

  8. West Virginia: Coal Company Contractor in Mingo County Caught in $405,000 Scam to Avoid Workers’ Comp Premiums (11/6/13)

    Bank of Mingo

    Jerame Russell (50), an executive with Aracoma Contracting, LLC, a company that provided labor to coal companies on a contract basis, entered a guilty plea to a scam that involved funneling over $2 million through a local bank to pay employees in cash, thus avoiding payroll taxes and $405,000 in workers’ compensation premiums. Aracoma also bribed an insurance auditor to cover up its true payroll.

  9. Ohio: Roofing Business Owners Guilty of $283,592 in Workers’ Comp Fraud (7/30/2013)

    Frederick Diebert

    The owners of Triple Star Roofing were found guilty of fraud on July 15 for failing to report payroll to the Ohio Bureau or Workers’ Compensation(BWC). The company failed to report to the BWC from 2004 to 2008, resulting in under-reported premiums of $283,592.

  10. Florida: Owner of Staffing Company arrested for $130,000 in Workers’ Comp Fraud

    Preferred Staffing of America, Inc.

    The owner of Preferred Staffing of America, Inc., a temporary staffing agency in Tampa, has been arrested for allegedly running an organized workers’ compensation fraud scheme. Preferred Staffing’s owner misled clients into believing that his company was a licensed professional employer organization (PEO) and could provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Employers were reportedly charged more than $130,000 for workers’ compensation insurance and other services that were never provided.

For more information, contact: Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr. Adjunct Professor of Workers’ Compensation N.C. Central School of Law The Jernigan Law Firm 2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 330 Raleigh, North Carolina 27608 (919) 833-0299 ltj@jernlaw.com www.jernlaw.com @jernlaw

How Safe Is Healthcare for Workers?

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

We represent a large number of workers injured in the healthcare industry in Wisconsin.

The article that today’s blog post is based upon is an in-depth look at how one state’s OSHA office interacts with a sector of the healthcare community: hospitals. Like Iowa, but unlike Nebraska, Oregon is one of 27 states or U.S. territories that has an OSHA office at the state level

The “Lund Report: Unlocking Oregon’s Healthcare System” article talks extensively about nuances within ways that OSHA offices, whether state or federal, can measure the safety of healthcare providers like hospitals and nursing homes. 

As evidenced in previous blog posts about senior-care workers and lifting injuries, I have continuing concerns for the safety of healthcare workers. 

According to the in-depth article, “A Lund Report review suggests that in Oregon, regulators are de-emphasizing attention to hospital employee safety, despite national data showing that healthcare workers are injured in the U.S. each year at rates similar to farmers and hunters. Most Oregon hospitals have not been inspected by the state Occupational Safety and Health Division in years. And when on-the-job hazards are detected, Oregon’s OSHA office levies the lowest average penalties in the country.”

Should workers get lost as the patients are the focus of these healthcare institutions? Should regulation and inspections or fines by such groups as OSHA be the driving force toward workplace safety for healthcare employees?

It seems to me that healthcare administrators’ emphasis on profit is more important than proper concern for their employees – the nation’s caregivers. And if you or your family member is the healthcare worker who gets hurt on the job, this lack of focus on the worker is more than just a philosophical argument.