Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation 

WCAB does not have authority to overturn award of medically necessary housekeeping services – California

When housekeeping services are requested by a physician and are reasonably required for an injured worker, they qualify as medical treatment. As such, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd District ruled that if a physician makes a request for a medical treatment, an employer cannot deny it unless a utilization reviewer determines that it is medically unnecessary.

In Allied Signal Aerospace, Constitution State Service Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Maxine Wiggs, the injured worker was receiving housekeeping services twice a month, but the physician requested a change to every week. The company submitted the request to utilization review. The reviewer found the more frequent schedule was not medically necessary. However, the WCAB supported a judge’s ruling to submit the records to a registered nurse who had made an earlier assessment of need for review.

The 2nd DCA vacated the WCAB’s ruling noting that since there was no stipulation to displace the provision of housekeeping from the UR-IMR process, the WCAB had no jurisdiction to review the medical necessity and reasonableness of service.

Exclusive remedy bars personal injury claim by firefighter kicked in the groin by supervisor – California

In Tibbett v. Los Angeles County Fire Department an appellate court affirmed a jury’s ruling that a firefighter’s unintentional injuries were barred by the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. The incident occurred when the firefighter complained to a supervisor about how a situation with a hostile victim was handled. The fire captain said he was showing a maneuver to keep volatile patients away by obstructing their vision, but the firefighter moved and he kicked him in the groin with a steel-toed shoe.

The firefighter had emergency surgery to remove his left testicle and underwent more surgeries that rendered him sterile. The court agreed with the jury, finding the fire captain did not intend to harm the firefighter; therefore, workers’ comp was the exclusive remedy.

Challenge to the presumption of correction for the opinions of EMAs rejected – Florida

In De Jesus Abreu v. Riverland Elementary School, the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected a constitutional challenge to the statutory presumption of correctness for the opinions of expert medical advisers (EMA). The employee suffered a compensable injury to her shoulder and an arthroscopic shoulder surgery was performed to address a partial rotator cuff tear.

While the physician deemed she had reached MMI, she continued to report pain and she sought care from an unauthorized orthopedic physician who recommended further surgery. The company authorized another orthopedist, who did not recommend further surgery. However, the employee obtained an IME from a doctor who thought surgery was appropriate.

Because of the conflicting opinions, a JCC appointed an EMA who opined that no further surgery was recommended or medically necessary. The JCC denied surgery because state statutes provide that the opinion of an EMA is presumed to be correct unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

The employee appealed, arguing that the presumption improperly usurps the rulemaking authority of the state Supreme Court and that the presumption interferes with the executive branch’s ability to fairly adjudicate workers’ compensation claims. The court disagreed.

Restaurant manager shot in off-hours robbery can receive benefits – Georgia

In Kil v. Legend Brothers, the Court of Appeals overturned a denial of benefits to a restaurant manager who was shot as he was arriving home from work with the day’s receipts, which he regularly reviewed when he got home. The worker lived with the restaurant owner and his coworker. When he arrived home with his coworker, they were attacked by three men who demanded money. When the attackers realized the worker had a gun, they fled, but shot him in the forearm and he has not been able to work.

Both an administrative law judge and later the state Board of Workers’ Compensation awarded him comp benefits, ruling that his injury arose within the scope and course of employment. However, a state superior court reversed, finding that he was not at work at the time of the armed robbery and shooting-that he was home and that he was shot because he had a gun, which “had nothing to do with performing his duties for his employer.”

The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting one of the worker’s key job responsibilities was to spend around an hour every day going over the restaurant’s daily sales, receipts, accounts and inventory and that he was continuing his duties as manager.

Insurer must pay for injuries despite misinformation in policy – Georgia

In Grange Mutual Casualty Co. v. Bennett, several mistakes were made when an insurance agent took the company’s business information from its policy with a former insurer. She misclassified the company that was a construction company involved in greenhouse repair and maintenance as providing janitorial services and erroneously noted that employees did not travel out of state and that workers did not perform work above 15 feet. While the owner signed the policy, there was a dispute whether it was complete at the time.

When an injury that occurred out of state was denied, the company told the agent the policy had to be changed because most of its business was out of state. When the insurer learned more about the business operations it said it would not have issued the policy if the application had correctly stated that the company operated in 30 states because Grange Mutual was not licensed to issue policies in all of those states. It sent a cancellation notice but gave the company 90 days to find an alternative.

In less than 90 days, another worker was injured out of state, suffering extensive injuries in a truck accident. An administrative judge held that Grange Mutual’s policy covered the employee’s injuries and that by agreeing to pay for workers’ comp claims under the laws of Georgia, the Georgia-based company’s workers were covered even when out-of-state. Further, an appellate court held that Grange Mutual waived its void policy defense when, after discovering the inaccurate information on the application, it informed the company that its coverage would continue for 90 days. The court said that if the insurer “believed that the policy was void based on fraud, it should have immediately rescinded it.”

Borrowing employer’s immunity from tort liability not dependent on insurance – Illinois

In Holten v. Syncreon North America, an appellate court ruled that a temporary staffing service’s employee could not pursue a negligence suit against his borrowing employer for work injuries. The worker received comp benefits from the staffing agency for injuries resulting from a forklift accident, but filed suit against the borrowing employer, asserting its negligence had led to his injuries.

The state Workers’ Compensation Act provides that the lending and borrowing employers are jointly and severally liable for workers’ compensation benefits, but both do not have to provide the insurance. As long as one of the employers pays benefits, both have civil immunity. The immunity springs from the borrowed-employee relationship itself.

Employee can sue Canada – Massachusetts

Federal law immunizing foreign governments from liability does not protect Canada from being sued as an uninsured employer under the state’s workers’ compensation statute for injuries suffered by a consulate employee in Boston, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision. In Merlini v. Canada, the Court found that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provides an exception to immunity for a foreign state that engages in a “commercial activity.” The court said Canada entered into a contract for commercial services by hiring Merlini and failed to carry workers’ comp insurance as required of commercial employers in the state.

Worker who resigned after injury can collect unemployment – Minnesota

In Interplastic Corp. v. Rausch, a long-time employee injured his back and was transitioned to a lower job but received the same wage and accompanying pay raises over the next three years. He was then notified his wage was being reduced to align with the position and he was ineligible for future raises. About the same time, the workers’ compensation claim was settled and he received a $25,000 payout and agreed to “voluntarily terminate his employment.”

When he applied for unemployment benefits, he was denied because he had voluntarily quit. However, a three-judge appellate court panel affirmed an unemployment law judge’s decision that a substantial pay reduction, the lack of future earnings potential, and the claim settlement allowed the worker to fall under the state’s statutory exception for unemployment eligibility.

Worker’s manufacture of meth does not forfeit comp benefits – New York

In Robert Stone v. Saulsbury/Federal Signa et al., an appellate court ruled that a worker’s conviction for manufacturing methamphetamine did not forfeit his entitlement to benefits for two industrial injuries. The court upheld the WCB ruling that the man who had been collecting indemnity benefits for a compensable injury prior to his conviction and incarceration did not violate state workers’ compensation laws when he became involved in the production of illegal drugs.

The insurer contended that the manufacture of methamphetamine constituted “work”. The court disagreed, “substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that the conviction alone is insufficient to establish any work activity by claimant or that he received any type of remuneration.”

Denial of occupational disease does not prevent new theory of accidental injury – New York

In Matter of Connolly v. Covanta Energy Corp., an appellate court reversed the state Workers’ Compensation Board’s finding that a worker suffered from an occupational disease (allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis) and remitted the matter to the Board for further proceedings. However, this would not prevent the worker from arguing an accidental injury claim on essentially the same facts. After remand, the Board was free to consider the new theory for the claim.

Elimination of labor attachment requirement for PPD not retroactive – New York

In Matter of the Claim of Scott v. Visiting Nurses Home Care, a worker who was classified as having a permanent partial disability, was found to have voluntarily withdrawn from the labor market and benefits were suspended twenty-two years after her injury. In 2017, the law was amended to provide that proving attachment to the labor market was no longer necessary for permanent partial disability compensation.

After the amendment took effect, she filed a request for reinstatement of benefits. A law judge, the Board, and the Appellate Division’s 3rd Department all agreed that the amendment did not apply retroactively.

Failure to mention side business not fraud – New York

In Matter of Permenter v. WRS Envtl. Servs. Inc., a truck driver’s failure to disclose his involvement in an online and retail flower business was not the sort of misrepresentation that should disqualify him from receiving workers’ compensation benefits according to an appellate court ruling. The employee had freely admitted that he owned a company engaged in the flower business, but the employee did not consider it work because it was not profitable.

Termination of benefits OK for a minor physical deformity, but no physical impairment – Pennsylvania

In Paolini v. Delaware County Memorial Hospital, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board held that the workers’ compensation judge (WCJ) did not err in awarding benefits to a nurse who sustained physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a dog bite while performing a home visit. Her doctor provided unequivocal medical testimony that she had sustained PTSD as a result of her work injury, even though her Facebook page showed her swimming and parasailing.

However, the board reversed the WCJ’s denial of the employer’s termination petition, as the employer’s examining physician found that although the nurse had slight discoloration and subjective, mild numbness, she had fully recovered from the physical dog bite.

Injuries incurred on railroad bridge not covered by longshore comp – Virginia

In Muhammad v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a district court’s holding that the worker’s negligence claim was barred by the exclusive remedy under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). While working on a bridge that crosses a navigable river, a portion of the walkway collapsed beneath the employee and he sustained serious injuries.

He filed suit against the railway, asserting a negligence claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act, but the company argued the claim was subject to the LHWCA. The district court agreed, finding repairing and rebuilding the bridge was an “essential and integral element” of the maritime traffic flowing under the bridge, therefore, his work constituted as engaging in maritime employment.

Upon appeal, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the district court’s decision. It noted that the LHWCA requires employee work “upon navigable waters” and that a bridge would not be covered by the statute.

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Things you should know

CDC: Half of workplaces offer health/wellness programs

Almost half of all U.S. worksites offered some type of health promotion or wellness program in 2017, according to a new study, Workplace Health in America 2017. This was the first government survey of workplace health promotion programs in 13 years.

Nationally, almost 30 percent of worksites offered some type of program to address physical activity, fitness, or sedentary behavior. Some 19 percent of worksites offered a program to help employees stop using tobacco products, and about 17 percent of worksites offered a program to address obesity or weight management.

FMCSA delays publication of proposed rule to amend trucker hours-of-service regs

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has delayed until further notice the publication of a proposed rule intended to add flexibility to hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers. The proposed rule remains under the Office of Management and Budget review.

NLRB gives employers greater discretion to limit union activity on their premises

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued a decision in UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside that reverses a longstanding precedent and holds that employers no longer have to allow nonemployee union representatives access to public areas of their property unless (1) the union has no other means of communicating with employees or (2) the employer discriminates against the union by allowing access to similar groups.

Study: Energy drinks take toll on heart health

Popular caffeine-packed beverages could affect heart rhythm, according to a new study. Research findings of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) confirm the short-term risk consumers take when consuming energy drinks. Drinking 32 oz. of an energy drink in a 60-minute timeframe directly affected the heart rhythm of the study’s participants, a result bolstered by previous research.


State News

California

  • The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board is planning to reorganize its Rules of Practice and Procedure, and is seeking comments from system users about other changes that it should consider. Comments can be sent to WCABRules@dir.ca.gov.

Georgia

  • A new law, the Georgia Long-Term Care Background Check Program will take effect Oct. 1, requiring nursing home and other long-term care workers to submit to extensive background checks.

Illinois

  • Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Massachusetts

  • More changes to three key deadlines for the Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) law.
    • September 30, 2019 – Employers and covered business entities are required to post a notice and provide written notice to their current workforce.
    • October 1, 2019 – Payroll withholdings begin for the October 1 to December 31 quarter.
    • December 20, 2019 – Deadline to file for a private plan exemption for first quarter contributions.
    • January 31, 2020 – First quarterly contribution payment due through MassTaxConnect.

Michigan

  • The governor issued an executive order creating a separate workers’ compensation appeals commission. The action separates the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Commission from the Workers’ Disability Compensation Appeals Commission.

Minnesota

  • Enacted detailed new recordkeeping requirements for employers, effective July 1, 2019, and wage theft protections for employees, effective August 1, 2019. For more information.
  • Department of Labor and Industry is urging all employers to examine their safety programs, after a spike in reported amputations this year.

Missouri

  • Department of Labor is offering confidential safety and health consultations aimed at helping employers build safer workplaces. Businesses must have no more than 250 employees at any one site, and fewer than 500 total employees, to qualify.

New York

  • The Workers’ Compensation Board formally adopted its drug formulary and prescribing rules for injured workers, set to go into effect Jan. 5, 2020.

Tennessee

  • Rejecting the strict “ABC” test adopted by its appellate court, that state has enacted a new law (H.B. 539) adopting a 20-factor test to determine employee-versus-independent contractor status. The new law becomes effective January 1, 2020.
  • An NCCI study found that prescription drug utilization decreased across all categories, regardless of whether they required prior authorization. After the Official Disability Guidelines Workers’ Compensation Drug Formulary was adopted, the utilization of N-drugs, which require prior authorization, dropped by 23.2%.

Virginia

  • On July 1, 2019, a new amendment to Virginia Code Section 8.01-413.1 will take effect, requiring all employers to provide copies of employment records to employees upon written request.


For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit 
www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

A new approach to serious injury and fatality prevention

Since the advent of Heinrich’s Injury Pyramid in 1931, it has been generally accepted that there is a predictive relationship between the frequency and types of non-injury, minor injuries and the serious, life-altering or threatening injuries, at the top of the triangle. The safety triangle theorizes that for every major injury there are 29 minor injuries and 300 non-injury incidents. Though this triangle is considered a gold standard, many safety professionals realize that all non-injury or minor incidents are not equal and some have more potential to result in a serious injury or fatality (SIF).

A recent report by the Campbell Institute, Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices recommends a redesign or enhancement of the model. The new SIF prevention model would look at all incidents – namely, precursors to accidents, recordable injuries, lost-time injuries and fatalities – and seek out those with serious injury and fatalities potential. It encourages organizations to focus on the process factors that lead to SIF, rather than human error, which will always occur. They should focus on repairing gaps in their safety management system, workplace culture, and changing or modifying work processes that eliminate human error.

For example, a workplace with a production problem may ignore or even condone shortcuts and speed, which can lead to bad decisions by workers. A forklift operator may drive too fast and not wear a seatbelt, which can lead to a serious accident. While there can be a tendency to blame the worker, the production demands were the proximate cause and the precursor to the event. According to the author of the paper, Joy Inouye, a key to lowering the fatalities in the workforce lies in an organization’s ability to look inward. “Instead of blaming the worker for not putting on his seatbelt, start to look at those organizational factors that contributed to that.” The report includes examples of companies that have successfully revamped strategies for identifying risk factors.

Trends in injury patterns validate the need for a shift in thinking. While employers have done a good job in reducing the total recordable incident rate, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of workplace fatalities and catastrophic injuries. Diving deeper into near misses and smaller, less serious incidents could help prevent on-the-job deaths or catastrophic injuries. By identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for such incidents to occur.

The report recognizes that isolating incidents with the potential for SIF requires serious groundwork. It suggests next steps like organizing a think-tank that defines “serious injury”, “precursor” and “potential.” To determine whether an incident is a potential SIF or not, it may make sense to define and use a Severity Scale that can be consistently understood by anyone, one that is tied to potential outcomes. For example, most severe could be an injury that would lead to the death of an individual, and the least severe could be first aid and immediate return to work. Including specific injury examples can be helpful.

Implementation raises the bar of safety management and requires a proactive, rather than reactive approach. It will take careful planning – both around the processes used and the responsibilities assigned.

What employers can do

  • Review and evaluate your near miss reporting system
    • Do workers fear the consequences of reporting something they may be blamed for or is there a culture of trust and all workers participate in reporting?
    • Is near miss training part of new hire orientation?
    • Are supervisors and management onboard and do they foster a reporting culture?
    • Is reporting simple and straightforward?
    • Does the report provide a solid log of what leads up to the incident?
    • Is the definition of near miss clear?
    • Is there a thorough investigation that identifies the root cause?
    • Are corrective actions taken and employees notified?
  • Have supervisors explain to employees why the company is focusing on the smaller incidents and near-misses, and how a minor incident can turn major. Explain the importance of looking at potential rather than actual outcomes for minor incidents.
  • Think-outside-the box. A recent article in Risk and Insurance described how Wente Family Estates vineyards teamed up with the criminology department at Holy Names University in Oakland to take a look at workers’ comp data to analyze injuries and near misses, pinpointing problem areas and gathering insight on how to prevent future losses. The idea was based on a partnership between United Airlines and the University of New Haven that used interns from the criminology department as part of a data visualization project, leading to a 23 percent reduction in employee injuries and a 29 percent reduction in aircraft damage on the ground.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com