AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Third Edition, Revised: What Are You Doing Colorado?

One of the questions I hear frequently about the Colorado workers’ compensation system from risk managers,AMAguides3rd insurance adjusters, and even some medical professionals is: “Why does Colorado still use the AMA Guides Third Edition, Revised, when calculating impairment?” In other words, why do Division Level II accredited physicians providing impairment ratings to injured workers use the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Third Edition, Revised (December 1990)? As of 2002, Colorado was, and still is, the only jurisdiction to use the Third Edition in the workers’ compensation system.[1]

The Third Revised Edition’s history in the Colorado workers’ compensation system is simple. The Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act underwent an extensive remodel in 1991. In the 1991 Amendments to the Act, the legislature inserted in section 8-42-107(A)(c), C.R.S., the methods to calculate impairment. In order to establish the medical impairment value for purposes of a permanent partial disability award, the legislature adopted the Third Edition, Revised (December 1990), which, at the time, was state of the art.  Since 1991, the legislature has not altered the statutory language.

The State of Colorado has arguably been cognizant of the fact it is the only state in the nation to hold onto this antiquated edition. In fact, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment commissioned a study in 2002, concluding that “spinal impairment evaluations are the most frequent type of evaluations performed.”[2] The study stated that, amongst the guides, there are significant differences in spinal impairment. The author pointed out “the impairment estimate for a spinal injury may be quite different depending on which edition is used to rate the condition.” The author concluded “Values were significantly less with both the Fourth and Fifth Editions, although more dramatically with the Fourth Edition.” The study pointed to different range of motion calculations between the guides to explain the discrepancy.

Per its own commissioned study that the use of the Third Edition Revised results in higher impairment ratings, and, therefore, higher permanent partial disability awards, Colorado has held strong to the Third Revised Edition.  In 2007 the AMA Guides Sixth Edition was published. The more recent studies show a decrease in impairment ratings with the Sixth Edition when compared to ratings under the Fifth Edition.[3] The State of Colorado utilizes the medical impairment rating system that on average provides the highest degree of impairment, including spinal impairments, to injured workers. It does not appear that there is any legislative progress to bring Colorado into alignment with any other state anytime soon.  Which begs the final question: Colorado, what are you doing?

________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Study of the Impact on Changing from the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Third Edition Revised to the Fourth or Fifth Editions in Determining Workers’ Compensation Impairment Ratings, Christopher Brigham, M.D. (June 30, 2002).

[2] Id. 58.

[3] Impact on Impairment Ratings from the American Medical Association’s Sixth Edition of the Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Robert Moss, et. al. (July 2012) at 25.

Division Rule 16: Increasing the Complexity of Utilization Preauthorization Disputes

On January 1, 2017, the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation’s revised Rule 16 will CDLE-Logotake effect. Rule 16 encompasses the medical, legal, and administrative standards for medical billing and for preauthorization of services requested by medical providers. The revised rule impacts the daily adjusting of workers’ compensation claims, specifically, responding to requests for preauthorization of medical services consistent with the Colorado Medical Treatment Guidelines (“MTG”). The critical alterations pertaining to the utilization review process impute additional legal obligations upon the insurance carrier or third party administrator (“TPA”) to take action after receiving a preauthorization request.

 

The most significant addition to Rule 16 was the incorporation of the “Notification” provision found in Rule 16-9. The Notification process was the Division’s response to concerns about expediting medical services to injured workers while guaranteeing that the medical providers would receive payment without a prior promise of payment from the insurance carrier or TPA. Rule 16-9(A) states “[t]he Notification process is for treatment consistent with the Medical Treatment Guidelines that has an established value under the Medical Fee Schedule. Providers may, but are not required to, utilize the Notification process to ensure payment for medical treatment that falls within the purview of the Medical Treatment Guidelines. Therefore, lack of response from the payer within the time requirement set forth in section 16-9 (D) shall deem the proposed treatment/service authorized for payment.”

 

The language contained in Rule 16-9(B) emphasizes that a medical provider “may” obtain permission to provide a service within the Medical Treatment Guidelines verbally within normal business hours.  The providers can obtain verbal confirmation and may make a request for written confirmation regarding payment of those services. If the provider wishes, the provider can submit a written Notification to the claim examiner. The provider must use the boilerplate Division form WC195, which is available online at the Division’s website. The provider must include on the form a statement as to why the service is medically necessary and cite the applicable MTG.

 

After the carrier or TPA receives the Notification, the respective recipient has 5 business days from the receipt of the Notification to respond to the provider. The timing for the response to the provider differs from the current structure of Rule 16 whereby the carrier is permitted 7 business days from the date of the request to respond to the request for authorization. If the carrier or TPA does not respond to a verbal or written request in 5 business days, the requested service is deemed automatically authorized for payment.

 

The carrier or TPA may either accept or deny the request for services. Similar to the current Rule 16 structure, the carrier or TPA always reserves the right to agree to pay for the requested services without a formal review of the requested services. The carrier or TPA can alternatively contest the services on the following grounds: “(1) for claims which have been reported to the Division, no admission of liability or final order finding the injury compensable has been issued; (2) proposed treatment is not related to the admitted injury; (3) provider submitting Notification is not an Authorized Treating Provider (ATP), or is proposing for treatment to be performed by a provider who is not eligible to be an ATP; (4) injured worker is not entitled to proposed treatment pursuant to statute or settlement;  (5) medical records contain conflicting opinions among the ATPs regarding proposed treatment; and (6) proposed treatment falls outside the Medical Treatment Guidelines (see section 16-9(E).”

 

If the carrier or TPA contests the Notification on the grounds that the treatment is not related to the industrial injury, the medical records contain conflicting opinions, or that the treatment falls outside of the MTG, the carrier or TPA must notify the provider. The carrier or TPA must then allow the provider to submit supporting documentation to justify the relatedness of the service. If the provider submits the requested supporting documentation, then the carrier or TPA must review the request consistent with the Rule 16-10 and 16-11 preauthorization rules within 7 business days. A party contesting the denial of a Notification request may file an Application for Hearing.

 

The Division inserted a penalties provision in Rule 16-9(G). Under this new rule, if any medical provider or payer, the carrier or TPA, misapply the Medical Treatment Guidelines in the Notification process, the respective party may be subject to penalties. This provision continues the Colorado state government’s history of advocating punitive sanctions for violations of administrative rules.

 

In addition to the Notification provision, the Division altered the rules pertinent to traditional utilization review contests for medical services outside of the MTG.  The utilization standards contained in Rule 16-10 largely remained unchanged by the new rule. The modification to Rule 16-11, however, focused upon remodeling the carrier’s and TPA’s right to contest the request for authorization.  Prior to January 1, 2017, in order to contest the request for preauthorization for services, the carrier or TPA had 7 business days to obtain a medical review or file an Application for Hearing to challenge the request. After January 1, 2017, the carrier or TPA must follow a different procedure to contest preauthorization, presuming that medical providers perfect their request for authorization.

 

Under the new Rule 16-11(E): “[f]ailure of the payer to timely comply in full with the requirements of section 16-11(A) or (B), shall be deemed authorization for payment of the requested treatment unless: (1) a hearing is requested within the time prescribed for responding as set forth in section 16-11(A) or (B) and the requesting provider is notified accordingly. A request for hearing shall not relieve the payer from conducting a medical review of the requested treatment, as set forth in section 16-11(B); or (2) the payer has scheduled an independent medical examination (IME) within the time prescribed for responding as set forth in section 16-11(B).” In short, filing an Application for Hearing by itself is no longer sufficient to contest the preauthorization request. If the carrier or TPA requests a hearing, the carrier or TPA must complete the medical review process within seven business days or actually schedule the injured worker for an Independent Medical Evaluation (“IME”) within seven business days.

 

The new Notification process for medical services, consistent with the MTG and the limitations on contesting a requests for preauthorization for services outside of the guidelines, raises numerous questions on how the rules will practically operate. For instance, does a verbal Notification for a service within the MTG left on a claims examiner’s voicemail meet the criteria for Rule 16-9(B)? Does an injured worker have legal standing to request penalties under Rule 16-9 if a medical provider misapplies the MTG in a request thereby causing a delay in medical treatment? If a carrier or TPA files an Application for Hearing and schedules an IME, and the IME is later cancelled for various reasons, is the requested service automatically authorized? Given the historical litigation surrounding Rule 16 utilization reviews, carriers and TPAs should begin implementing safeguards and training to ensure strict compliance with the complex additions to the modified rule.

A Painful Step in Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: An Overview of the 2016 CDC Guidelines

The growing epidemic of chronic opioid use and addiction, and its consequences, permeates theopiod American medical and legal landscape.  Since the spike in the use of ubiquitous pain medications in the late 1990s, there has been little actual oversight in the health care industry to regulate the prescription of these highly addicting drugs.  In March 2016, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidelines concerning opioid pain prescriptions. The guidelines have caused some backlash from physicians, who believe the government is now overreaching into the patient-physician relationship, and shifting from its historical role of approving the use of opioids at the regulatory level. Aside from the finger pointing amongst stakeholders in the health care industry, from the government, to big pharma, to the physicians who continue to administer, to the legal system, the fact is there is plenty of blame to go around for the cause of the epidemic. The response to the guidelines reflects the fundamental agreement that more oversight and education is needed at all levels.  The CDC’s new guidelines are a broadened approach with the goal of addressing the epidemic from the top down.

 

The authors of the guidelines, which were an amalgam of health care professionals, cited a jaw dropping statistic. In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid medications. That is one prescription for every adult in the U.S. The increase in prescriptions were found in the areas of family practice, general practice, and internal medicine. From 1999 through 2014, more than 165,000 people died from opioid related deaths in the U.S. The authors pointed out that contemporary studies evidenced that opioids have adverse long term affects including significant physical impairment and distress. The authors stated that, “this disorder is manifested by specific criteria such as an unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use resulting in social problems and a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.” In other words, continued prescription of opioid medications can be a contributing factor in an injured worker not returning to the work place.

 

The substance of the CDC guidelines can be broken into three general categories:

(1) when to start or continue administration of opioids for chronic pain symptoms;

(2) how practitioners should select a particular drug, the dosage, and when to discontinue that specific dosage; and

(3) how to mitigate the potential for addiction from start to finish.

The guidelines are not intended to apply for cancer and end-of-life palliative care. Rather, the guidelines are intended to apply to primary providers, including those who work in out-patient clinical settings.

 

The guidelines emphasize the benefits of non-opioid treatments. For lower back pain, exercise therapy and non-steroid anti-inflammatories are recommended. As an alternative to opioids, cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended to mitigate disability and catastrophic thinking. If, and when, opioids are utilized in a treatment program, the physician should continue prescriptions if “meaningful improvement” in pain and function outweighs the risk of continued use. The guidelines recommend that the patients demonstrate a 30% improvement in pain scores and function to justify continued opioid use. In other words, opioids must be used as a method to improve function rather than as a “band-aid” approach to sustain the status-quo condition.

 

During the continuation process, the physician should actively manage the patient’s case by reviewing any history of controlled substances and utilize their state’s prescription drug monitoring program periodically, while performing, at a minimum, annual urine tests. In Colorado, for example, the Workers’ Compensation Medical Treatment Guidelines (MTG), Rule 17 Exhibit 9, have independent criteria for treating chronic pain in workers’ compensation case. The MTG emphasizes similar recommendations for active case management, including urine screens.  Additionally, the Department of Regulatory Agencies, in connection with several state medical boards, released an “Open Letter to the General Public on the Quad-Regulator Joint Policy for Prescribing and Dispensing Opioids” on October 15, 2014. While the policy does not draw a bright line rule of managing opioid cases in Colorado, the letter does outline the boards’ recognition that “decreasing opioid misuse and abuse in Colorado should be addressed by collaborative and constructive policies aimed at improving the prescriber education and practice, decreasing diversion, and establishing the same guidelines for all opioid prescribers and dispensers.”  The board also emphasized documenting improved functions, the use of the PDMP (Prescription Drug Monitoring Program), and random drug screening based upon the provider’s clinical judgment.

 

The CDC guidelines are important to workers’ compensation treatment and claims. The guidelines suggest that long term opioid use can be counterproductive in workers’ compensation. How these guidelines will be used by workers’ compensation physicians, in order to return injured workers’ back to work, has yet to be known. But the guidelines can be used in an effort to mitigate risk for future exposure in the litigation process. From a legal perspective, the guidelines, though not binding on any physician, are a peer reviewed document by both experts in the field and industry stakeholders. In this author’s opinion, the guidelines itself meet the threshold evidentiary requirement in Colorado as an admissible, reliable medical document. For more information, please feel contact us with specific case-related questions. As a resource, the CDC guidelines can be found here. A copy of the Colorado joint letter on prescribing and dispensing opioids can be found by following the link located here.

 

History of Workers’ Compensation, Part III, Emergence of the Modern-Day System

This is the final piece of a three-part series surveying the history of workers’ compensation. Prior to 1911, an individual residing in the United States, regardless of their state residency, who suffered a workplace injury could only recover damages by utilizing traditional tort based law. In other words, an injured worker would need to sue their employer and claim the employer’s negligence or intentional conduct caused the subsequent injury. The employer could raise defenses such as contributory negligence or assumption of risk to bar the receipt of monetary damages. This system was often cumbersome, time-consuming, unpredictable, and expensive for both the employer and employee.

In 1911, the State of Wisconsin passed the first statutory law specifically addressing workers’ compensation entitlement benefits. The goal ofWisconsinAct the act was to create an efficient system to adjudicate claims while reducing legal hurdles for the injured worker thus creating a predictable system where the employer could foresee limited monetary risks. The Wisconsin system created a “no-fault” legal system in which the injured worker would no longer need to prove that the employer engaged in some type of culpable negligent or intentional conduct. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, “the intent of the law was to require an employer to promptly and accurately compensate a worker for any injury suffered on the job, regardless of the existence of any fault or whose it might be.” The legislation provided for wage loss benefits, cost of medical treatment, disability payments, and payment for vocational rehabilitation training.

The legislation also eliminated an injured workers’ right to seek damages historically available through the tort system. As discussed in part two of the series, by 1911 the general public had become more concerned about the deplorable and often unsafe working conditions in factories across the nation. The Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Act barred the injured worker from pursuing non-economic damages awarded by juries, including pain and suffering and loss and enjoyment of life. Similar to today’s ubiquitous state-based worker’s compensation acts, the Wisconsin Act enumerated the specific type of damages an injured worker could receive, thereby duly preventing the injured worker from requesting a jury to adjudicate damages. The judge adjudicating workers’ compensation claims, as a finder of fact, could not award benefits beyond the provided benefits in each respective act. The Wisconsin Act, while providing for specific benefits and shifting liability to the employer under the no-fault system, also provided employer’s with protection by limiting the scope of damages and removing the question of damages from unpredictable juries.

In the decade following the Wisconsin Act, nearly every state in the union promulgated some form of a workers’ compensation act. Mississippi was the last state to pass an act, but did so by 1948. Interestingly, as Gregory Guyton points out in his “Brief History of Workers’ Compensation,” the medical profession did not receive the worker’s compensation system with open arms. Medical professionals generally viewed worker’s compensation as a form of socialized medicine. According to Guyton, when the Social Security disability insurance act was created in the 1930s, disability based medicine expanded becoming lucrative for medical professionals. On the heels of the respective disability acts, the American Medical Association published the first guides to the evaluation of permanent impairment in order to develop a method to provide compensation evaluations. In Colorado, the legislature has decided to continue using the third edition of the AMA Guides to permanent impairment. The guide is currently available in six editions.

Given the volume of claims in any one state for benefits, each state may elect to create administrative agencies to adjudicate workers’ compensation claims. Colorado, for example created the Office of Administrative Courts in 1976 to hear an array of limited subject matter cases, including workers’ compensation. Prior to that time, the District Court handled worker’s compensation claims. Any individual working in workers’ compensation is familiar with the respective administrative system and ministering the claims. As the American workforce changes in age, and disability laws, including the ADA, become more pervasive in the work environment, there are open questions as to whether disability acts or managed health care administered by the federal government will substitute various aspects of workers’ compensation. For now, the workers’ compensation model most are familiar with will remain stable, subject to changes made by each respective legislation.

History of Workers’ Compensation Law: Part 1, Ancient Beginnings

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The modern day workers’ compensation system has a long, and often dark, history. The concept of an individual’s right to recover monetary compensation for sustaining an injury caused by another is one of the oldest legal concepts in recorded human history. One observer has pointed out that “the history of workers’ compensation begins shortly after the advent of written history itself.” Gregory Guyton, “A Brief History of Workers’ Compensation,” Iowa Orthop. J, 1999, 19: 106-110. Guyton argues that, regardless of how professionals involved in the system “lament the difficulty” of its administration, understanding the history of the workers’ compensation system lends valuable perspective to its critical importance in the work place. This three part series, Ancient Beginnings, Industrial Revolution, and Modern America, will deliver the basic historical framework underpinning the workers’ compensation profession.

The first historical recording of law requiring payment of monetary compensation for bodily injury dates back to the Code of Ur-Nammu, which is the oldest surviving set of written laws. The Code of Ur-Nammu, which is written on stone tablets and currently on exhibit inHammurabi_Code Istanbul, originated in Mesopotamia sometime between 2100-2050 B.C, while under the reign of King Namma of Ur. The overarching goal of the code was to establish “equity in the land.” In doing so, King Ur dictated laws such as “if a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out ½ of mina in silver” or 30 silver shekels. The code itself implies that the payment of compensatory awards applied to all aspects of daily life. The code also reflects the ubiquitous use of labor slaves, as it only provided for and only awarded monetary compensation awards to the slave owner, rather than the laborer, if the slave in the case sustained the injury.

The Code of Hammurabi, famously known for the harsh eye-for-an-eye decree, adopted the compensation-for-disability concept when instituted sometime between 1795-1750 B.C. Neither the codes of Kings Ur or Hammurabi appear to give an employer special exempt privileges. According to the Code of Hammurabi, if a man committed an unintentional assault or bodily harm against another free man, he need only be charged the value of doctor’s fees as a penalty. Rev. Claude Johns, “Babylonian Law”, 11th Ed. of Encyclopedia Britannic, (1910-1911). There were harsh penalties for careless and neglectful behavior on the part of those providing public services. For example, if an unskilled surgeon caused loss of life or limb, the surgeon’s hands were cut off. Scholars point out that the code also contained instances when compensation could be awarded based upon a schedule if the underlining injury was a result of neglect conduct. One can use their own imagination to lament on how this code was applied to individuals who engaged in careless actions that caused harm to their employees. The monetary compensation and respective legal codes only applied to free citizens. One explanation for the lack of specific work-place laws certainly is that the workers’ in the high intensity jobs, such as construction, were not entitled to legal protections due to their social position as property slaves.

Contemporary observers are part to turn of the century Greek, Roman, Arabic, and Chinese legal codes as the next step in the evolution of workers’ compensation law. Gregory Guyton notes that the ancient legal systems provided for compensation schedules for the loss of a specific body part based upon the schedule on compensation for the injury itself. The compensation given to an individual for loss of a body part was only based upon the scheduled award. The value of an impairment disability did not exist in antiquity. See Geerts, Achille, et. al., Compensation for Bodily Harm: A Comparative Study, (1977). For example, in Ancient Rome, the civil liability for causing physical impairment to another citizen was contained in the civil law delict codes. Whether one was held liable for damages, based upon the schedule, depended on the degree of fault of the offending party. The Roman delict provided the early foundations for negligence based personal injury compensation systems. By all accounts, these legal systems did not include remuneration for physical impairments (disability affecting an individual’s ability to perform a task or job), but only provided compensation for an actual injury.

Payment for an actual impairment, equivalent to modern impairment benefits, subtly arose in the pre-Renaissance feudal system. The payment of quasi-impairment compensation occurred when landlords would provide impaired feudal serfs compensation for disabling physical conditions. See Gayton, Supra. One not need think too hard on whether a serf was providing services to a lord at the time of the injury. The arbitrary award to a loyal serf stemmed from the feudal lords’ culturally imposed sense of honor and benevolent obligation to care for his servants. There is no definitive evidence to suggest that the royal elites in the time of Kings Ur or Hammurabi engaged in similar practices.

The Middle Ages and pre-industrial Renaissance Europe gave way to the birth of the English common law system. The slow reduction of enslaved and indentured laborers correlated to an increased number of persons (protected under the laws) entering into more labor-intensive jobs. The law needed to respond in turn. Guyton notes that early English Common law established three principles known as the “unholy trinity of defenses” to determine whether work place injury was compensable. First, the contributory negligent principle held that if a worker was in “anyway” responsible for an injury, the employer was not liable. Second, the “fellow servant” rule exempted an employer from liability when the workers’ injury arose out of the negligent conduct of a co-worker. Third, the “assumption of risk” rule permitted employers to enter into contracts with workers whereby the worker would waive the right to sue the employer for damages. Since employers would often enter into these agreements with workers when a job required exceptionally dangerous work, the waiver agreements became known as “death contracts.”

Hundreds of years later, the modern American workers’ compensation system eviscerated the three early English compensability laws. The lessons gleaned from antiquity reflect the slow growth of the compensation for injury system, which was born out of necessity to address growing disputes amongst those protected under the respective legal system. The next edition of Cup O’ Joe will discuss Part II, how the industrial revolution shaped the modern workers’ compensation system.

Researching Narcotic Prescription Information In Colorado

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A ubiquitous problem in workers’ compensation patient care, as well as in the general clinical healthcare setting, is an individual patient’s use, and potential abuse, of controlled prescription narcotics.  The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is the State of Colorado’s secure, central electronic informational data base that records and tracks each pharmacist’s dispensement of controlled narcotics. In an effort to curb narcotic prescription abuse, as well as to improve overall clinical care, the state of Colorado recently revised its PDMP guidelines with the goal of promoting more accessibility to the PDMP’s recording and research functions.

Currently, medical professionals use the PDMP to track a particular patient’s use, prescription quantity, frequency of prescriptions, and procurement of controlled substances. The PDMP is frequently used in the workers compensation system to reference whether an injured worker is obtaining narcotics prescriptions from more than one physician, or whether an injured worker has a history of narcotic dependency. The PDMP is considered a medical record, and protections of HIPPA apply to PDMP information. This information can be used to evaluate a specific course of treatment unique to the injured workers’ clinical history; however, a long-standing issue has been the quality and quantity of the information available to physicians.

Prior to October, 2014, PDMP users were only permitted to upload data twice every month. As of October 15, 2014, the revised PDMP regulations, Rx_keyadministered by the Division of Professions and Occupations, require that all in-state and non-resident pharmacies registered by the state’s Pharmacy Board submit controlled substance dispensing data to the PDMP on a daily basis. Most of these changes are contained in House Bill 14-1283. Any pharmacist or physician possessing a Drug Enforcement Agency registered narcotics prescriber permit is required to register with PDMP and follow rules and regulations of the State Board Pharmacy. The new regulations also contain tools to help ease the burden of having to enter massive amounts of patient data in real time. As of January 2015, each prescriber and pharmacist registered as a user with the PDMP may delegate access to the PDMP to three agents by way of creating sub-accounts with the PDMP under the corresponding prescriber or pharmacist’s account.

Granting broader access to the PDMP is an important step for purposes of controlling and containing medical costs in workers’ compensation. Based upon the new revisions to the PDMP guidelines, a workers’ compensation authorized provider may delegate authority to access the PDMP database to three designees acting for the provider. Large and small facilities treating patients will now be able to utilize nurses, or other health care professionals who did not previously have access to the PDMP, as delegated agents authorized to research an injured workers’ narcotic prescription history. The regulatory changes will give busy pharmacists the opportunity to input data on a daily basis. Physicians practicing in workers’ compensation can then obtain real time data about an injured worker’s prescription history by using their staff to obtain and process the clinical information.

Under the applicable rules, physicians performing independent medical examinations may not access the PDMP for information on an injured worker. However, it is recommended that, after obtaining a HIPPA compliant release, the authorized physician be asked to check the PDMP to evaluate an injured worker’s narcotic prescription and compliance history. It is also recommended that insurance representatives adjusting a workers’ compensation claim make repeated requests for PDMP information throughout any claim when narcotic prescription management is an issue. More information about Colorado’s PDMP can be found at

http://www.hidesigns.com/copdmp.

The 180 Day Ticking Time Bomb

The Colorado Governmental Immunities Act: The 180 Day Ticking Time Bomb for Filing a Subrogation Personal Injury Lawsuit
– Joseph W. Gren, Esq.


Professor Alan Dershowitz, a hailed legal commenter and constitutional scholar, once remarked that “every lawsuit results from somebody doing something wrong. If everybody did right, we wouldn’t need laws.” In Colorado, the Workers’ Compensation Act provides an employer and insurance carrier the right to sue a “third party” when that respective third party causes injuries to an employee. Section 8-41-203, C.R.S. Though most insurance carriers and claims examiners are generally familiar with the “right of subrogation,” there are several areas of workers’ compensation subrogation that are often times thorny, especially when the government becomes involved.

When the “somebody” who caused an injury to an injured employee is a state governmental entity, a workers’ compensation insurance carrier must take specific measures at the onset of the injury in order to protect their respective subrogation rights. A party’s failure to follow the specific statutory timeframes established by the Colorado Governmental Immunities Act (“CGIA”), section 24-10-101, C.R.S., will result in any personal injury claim being time barred: Maestas v. Lujan, 351 F.3d 1001 (10th Cir. 2003). The most important step an insurance carrier or employer can take at the onset of a subrogation claim is to file the appropriate notice of claim with a governmental entity.

Generally, the CGIA permits the government to be sued for damages arising out of personal injury claims in limited circumstances. This concept is known as a waiver of governmental immunity. Though the jurisprudential theory underpinning why the government enjoys such a unique perk is significant, it is more important to understand how this law practically works. The first step in determining whether the CGIA applies to your case is to determine whether a governmental agency or employee caused, or was involved in causing, the injury to an insured’s employee.

Commonplace examples of personal injury claims involving a governmental entity include injuries caused by dangerous conditions, such as slip and falls on ice found on the grounds of governmental facilities – schools or parks maintained by a municipality, city or state. See, also Reynolds v. School District No. 1 Denver, 69 F.3d 1532 (10th Cir 1995). More subtle instances of entities who may claim protections under the CGIA include physicians whom are associated with state teaching intuitions, but work at medical facilities conducting surgeries. Rudnick v. Ferguson, et. al., 179 P.3d 26 (Colo. App. 2007). State hospitals and its employees also enjoy the protections of the CGIA. Injuries caused by a federal governmental entity or employee implicate the Federal Tort Claims Act. 28 U.S.C., Chapter 17. It is important to distinguish between state and federal entities at the onset of the claim to determine which notice provisions apply in your case.

Once the governmental entity or employee is identified, any party seeking damages, including damages provided under the subrogation statute, must provide the entity notice consistent with the CGIA. Notice of a claim must be sent in writing within “one-hundred and eight-two days” after the “discovery of the injury, regardless of whether the person then knew of all elements of claim or of a cause of action for such injury.” Section 24-10-109(1). As a general rule, most familiar with the CGIA use 180 days as the notice deadline. It is critical to file the written notice within 180 days after the employer or carrier has reasonable or actual notice of a workers’ compensation injury. Failure to provide a claim notice within the 180 day window will result in the claim being barred by the CGIA, as has happened in a number of cases. Once a trial court dismisses a claim as a result of untimely notice, the appeals courts usually provide no sympathy to a CGIA claimant.

The case of The City and County of Denver v. Crandall, 161 P.3d 627 (Colo. 2007) is illustrative of the harsh realities of not meeting the 180-day notice deadline. In that case, customer service agents working for an airliner at DIA alleged an environmental exposure injury caused by the poor air quality in Concourse B. The employees manifested symptoms consistent with the exposure in 1999 through 2002. In 2002, one employee filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging a 1999 date of injury. Multiple injured employees then filed notice of a CGIA claim with the City of Denver. The city claimed that the notice should have been filed within 180 days from the 1999 date of injury as noted on the workers’ compensation claim form. Although the employees demonstrated recurring symptoms in 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court barred the claim against the city on the grounds that the notice should have been filed in 1999. The employees were unable to recover damages against the city. The case, however, does not address whether a workers’ compensation carrier would be able to file a timely CGIA claim if the carrier found out about the injury in 2002. However, it does imply that the 180-day requirement starts ticking when a party, perhaps even the employer, has reasonable evidence that an injury has occurred.

The CGIA also requires that the notice contain specific language. Section 24-10-109(2)(a)-(e), C.R.S. provides that the claim notice requires: (a) the name and address of the claimant and the name and address of his attorney, if any; (b) a concise statement of the factual basis of the claim, including the date, time, place, and circumstances of the act, omission, or event complained of; (c) the name and address of any public employee involved, if known; (d) a concise statement of the nature and the extent of the injury claimed to have been suffered; (e) a statement of the amount of monetary damages that is being requested. As a workers’ compensation carrier, the carrier or employer who carries the loss can be considered the “claimant,” as described in section (a). Since the exposure for a workers’ compensation claim may be unknown until several years after the injury, the notice of damages should contain a statement of generalized monetary figures or allegations. The courts often times strictly enforce what is statutorily required to be in the notice. Hamon Contractors, Inc., Carter and Burgess, Inc., 229 P.3d 282, (Colo.App.2009). Though you may serve the written notice within 180 days, failure to include a statement of circumstances of the event, for example, can result in a bar to the claim.

Finally, the written notice must be served with the proper governmental entity. According to the CGIA, “[i]f the claim is against the state or an employee thereof, the notice shall be filed with the attorney general. If the claim is against any other public entity or an employee thereof, the notice shall be filed with the governing body of the public entity or the attorney representing the public entity. Such notice shall be effective upon mailing by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or upon personal service.” Section 24-10-109(3)(a). Additionally, subsection (b) states that a “notice required under this section that is properly filed with a public entity’s agent listed in the inventory of local governmental entities pursuant to section 24-32-116, is deemed to satisfy the requirements of this section.” Each governmental agency may have a different division or department designated to receive CGIA claims notices, such as a city attorney or a county clerk. It is advisable to contact the agency several weeks before the notice due date to obtain the name, address and division for the department designated to accept claim notices.

This article only scratches the surface of the CGIA’s complexities. But the most critical aspect of the CGIA, and the greatest obstacle in governmental subrogation recovery, is filing a claim against a government with the 180-day timeframe. Claims against the government can be won and lost depending on whether the timely notice has been met. If the timeframe is not met, the governmental “somebody doing something wrong” entity or employee will be granted immunity under the law even if the government is 100% at fault.