A lot of my blogging stems from my experience representing my clients in workers’ compensation cases. Last fall, I wrote a couple of posts: “Why so few workers get vocational rehabilitation in Nebraska” and “Why injured workers stop going to the doctor even if they are still in pain” after hard fought litigation had concluded.
I don’t know if it is apparent from the tone of those posts, but they were written from a sense of discouragement and disappointment. In both posts I wrote about the difficulties that injured workers have in receiving fair workers’ compensation benefits.
Law students, law professors and other legal analysts spot legal problems; trial lawyers need to find solutions for legal problems. After reading and reflecting, I’ve come up with three partial solutions for two major problems for injured workers in workers compensation cases.
None of these solutions are ideal or useful in every circumstance. These problems call out for pro-worker reforms to workers’ compensation laws, but even without “structural” solutions, lawyers for injured workers don’t just have to throw up their hands and tell their clients there is nothing they can do for them when faced with these difficulties.
Problems: The TTD/PPD gap.
Solution: Apply for unemployment.
I feel like I’ve written extensively about the problem of the long delay between when temporary benefits end and when permanent disability benefits start. Tara Reck in Washington state wrote a post about advising clients to apply for unemployment benefits in that situation. I kicked myself for not thinking of that before. (By the way, Washington cuts off temporary benefits after a vocational counselor determines an employee can return to work. That would significantly shorten the gap time.)
Applying for UI benefits in this situation is a good idea for a lot of reasons. One, Once a worker is at MMI, they are usually able and available for work. Two usually unemployment requires an extensive job search as a condition of receiving benefits. That job search can be evidence in a workers’ compensation case which can help prove up permanent disability. Evidence of a diligent job search by an injured worker usually also boosts credibility with a judge
Finally, a successful application for unemployment benefits means that an employee has steady income and maybe even finds a job. Having a steady income lessens the pressure on the injured worker to settle their workers’ compensation case.
Problem: The delay between the end of TTD and beginning of PPD
Solution: Ask court to appoint counselor for LOEP with just FCE restrictions
Part of the delay between the end of temporary and start of permanent disability benefits is the difficulty in figuring out disability. Part of this delay can be explained by the practice of having a doctor ratify or sign off on functional capacity evaluation or FCE results obtained by a physical therapist. Doctor-endorsement of work restrictions is believed by some to be necessary for the appointment of a vocational counselor to perform a loss of earning power evaluation.
Physical therapists have an uncertain status as experts within the workers’ compensation court. But I was able to get a vocational counselor appointed with just FCE restrictions from a PT. (Feel free to contact me for a copy of the order) As a precaution, I did get the findings endorsed by a medical doctor. But I would encourage other plaintiff’s lawyers to push the issue with the trial courts in Nebraska. I believe trial judges are aware of the gap issue and are sympathetic to employees on the issue. With a concerted effort, the plaintiff’s bar in Nebraska may be able to reverse the custom of having a medical doctors endorse FCE restrictions from a physical therapist.
Problem: Future medical in a denied claim where the employee can’t afford future medical care.
Solution: Use company provided medical care
I wrote a post about why injured workers stop going to the doctor even if they are in pain. One of the main reasons why employees stop seeking care is cost. Another reason why employees stop seeking care is because employers manage medical of their injured workers and encourage doctors to release workers without recommendations for future medical care. This problem is particularly acute for employees of self-insured companies or quasi self-insureds with high deductible coverage.
But these self-insured employees usually often provide onsite occupational clinics. These providers are often on the front-line of discouraging claims. Many injured workers don’t seek treatment there because of that reason.
But those clinics are convenient and free of charge to employees who use them. They are a good way to bolster the case future medical if an employee is regularly seeking treatment there for work-related symptoms. The fact that an injured worker continues to seek treatment at onsite clinic can also help their case by adding legitimacy to their testimony about the nature and extent of their limitations and symptoms from their work injury.
These occupational health notes are a discovery gold mine in my view. Not only do they give you what amounts to a free medical summary, they also document time off work which is incredibly helpful in proving entitlement to temporary disability benefits. The notes can also be a good source for admissions against interest by the employer.