The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update September 2018

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In the News

Lee & Brown attended the 25th Annual PWC Golf Tournament held at Wellshire Golf Course on September 14th. Members Katherine Lee and Joshua Brown played on a team as well as Of Counsel Frank Cavanaugh and Bill Sterck. The Firm sponsored the Hole-in-One competition, which included a chance to win a $10,000 prize. While there was no hole-in-one, there was an Elway’s gift card giveaway, along with golf balls and tees. Everyone enjoyed the seasonably warm weather and refreshing beverages. Congratulations to all the players and to the PWC for putting on a great event.

 

Noteworthy Cases

Member Joshua Brown successfully defended against a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charge in Rood v. Colorado Professional Security Services, LLC. The charging party alleged that he and his spouse were retaliated against in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”). The charging party alleged that he was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the employer in retaliation for having initiated a wage and hour lawsuit against the employer. The employer filed the lawsuit against the charging party because of harassing conduct and a social media video. The NLRB found that there was no retaliatory motive.

Member Joshua Brown also successfully defended against a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charge in David v. Colorado Professional Security Services, LLC. The charging party alleged that he was disciplined and discharged in retaliation for joining a wage and hour lawsuit against the employer. Specifically, the charging party posted a video on social media criticizing the employer. The NLRB found that in the video, the charging party made several unprotected comments about his supervisor and employer’s owner. The NLRB found that the employer discharged the charging party for the unprotected conduct and disciplinary history, rather than in retaliation for any protected concerted activity.

 

In Rodarte v. Walmart Associates, Inc. (d/b/a Sam’s Wholesale Club), Of Counsel M. Frances McCracken, successfully defended against Claimant’s attempt to obtain both post-MMI medical maintenance care (in the form of additional physical therapy) and conversion of her scheduled rating of permanent impairment to whole person. The Claimant sustained a compensable injury after a baking tray fell off a shelf and crushed her right long finger. The matter eventually proceeded through the DIME process. The DIME physician opined that no post-MMI maintenance care was appropriate. At hearing, Ms. McCracken elicited evidence that the Claimant attained no meaningful benefit from approximately 80 physical therapy sessions, alongside other treatment modalities. With respect to conversion, Ms. McCracken highlighted evidence to the Court revealing that the Claimant could only show pain extending beyond her hand into the whole person. Ms. McCracken emphasized that mere pain is not enough to substantiate conversion; instead, the Claimant was required to show functional impairment or disability into the whole person. The Claimant’s requests for both the post-MMI medical care and conversion of the impairment rating were denied and dismissed.

 

Associate Matt Boatwright successfully defended a fully contested claim in Foster v. United Parcel Service. The Claimant asserted that he suffered a knee injury while delivering packages, despite completing his route, without report of an injury or any incident. The ALJ found that the Respondents’ employer witness testified credibly that the Claimant did not report any work injury until being informed that he was terminated for insubordination. The employer witness also testified credibly that the Claimant did not appear to have a limp until after he was terminated. Respondents’ IME expert credibly opined that it was medically unlikely that the Claimant’s condition would have become worse while off work without an aggravating activity. The ALJ denied and dismissed the Claimant’s claim for compensation.

Associate Matt Boatwright also successfully defended against compensability in Floyd v. United Parcel Service. The Claimant claimed that he injured his shoulder while detaching a tractor trailer. While the Claimant admitted that he had previously injured the shoulder in a prior motor vehicle accident and had undergone some limited conservative treatment, he denied having any other prior issues with the shoulder. The medical evidence reflected that the Claimant had chronic shoulder issues, a preexisting motor vehicle accident injury, as well as more recent pain from his personal recreational activities. The Respondents’ medical expert testified credibly that the Claimant’s MRI findings reflected a degenerative rotator cuff tear, which was not likely the result of a single, acute incident. The ALJ favored the opinion of the Respondents’ medical expert over the Claimant’s testimony and denied and dismissed the claim.

 

The Cross Contamination between Workers’ Compensation and OSHA:
Considerations for Handling Blood-Borne Pathogen Claims in Colorado and Arizona.

Exposure to blood-borne pathogens presents unique risks in the work place. Workers in health care or in-resident home care are, on a daily basis, subject to the potential of disease transmitted by bodily fluids. Given the ubiquitous daily potential for exposure to workers across the board, from direct patient care workers to maintenance workers to transport personnel, risk managers and adjusters need to understand the overlap with workers compensation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) rules. Understanding exposure and needlestick law is critical to containing risks as well as protecting employees from life-altering danger. Continue reading the article.
 

Cases You Should Know

Take this Job and Shove It: Modified job offers and initial entitlement to TTD benefits: In Valle v. Precision Drilling, W.C. No. 5-050-714-01 (January 8, 2018), Respondents sought review of the ALJ’s Order requiring them to pay TTD benefits. Claimant sustained an admitted injury in his position as a floor hand. Claimant was put on temporary work restrictions and offered a modified job duty prior to missing any work. He declined to accept the modified job duty offer and sought TTD benefits. Respondents declined to pay TTD benefits, relying on C.R.S. §8-42-105(3)(d)(1), which states that refusal to accept a modified job duty offer may serve as a basis for terminating TTD benefits. The ICAP ruled that Respondents incorrectly relied on C.R.S. §8-42-105(3)(d)(1) because Claimant was neither entitled to nor receiving TTD benefits when the modified job duty offer was made. ICAP did state that the refusal to accept the modified job duty offer would be a proper factor to consider in determining Claimant’s initial entitlement to temporary disability benefits but the applicable statute would be C.R.S. §8-42-103(1), which establishes a Claimant’s initial entitlement to temporary benefits and not the termination statute, C.R.S. §8-42-105(3)(d)(1).

Moral of the Story: Refusal to accept a modified job duty offer may be considered in determining initial entitlement to TTD benefits if refusal of the job offer is the cause of the Claimant’s wage loss pursuant to C.R.S. §8-42-103(1).

 

Take this Job and Shove It Part 2: More fun with modified job offers and TTD benefits: In Willhoit v. Maggie’s Farm, W.C. No. 5-054-125 (March 14, 2018), Claimant sought review of an ALJ’s Order denying TTD benefits. Claimant sustained a work-related injury in his position as a Cultivation Technician for a marijuana farm and was placed on temporary work restrictions. He then received a modified job duty offer, which was approved by his ATP, to trim buds in the cultivation room. Claimant refused the modified job offer on the basis that he believed it violated his work restrictions, due to treatment recommendations by his ATP to rest, apply ice, compress, stretch, and elevate his knee. Respondents denied Claimant’s request for TTD benefits due to his failure to accept the modified job duty offer. ICAP found that Claimant’s refusal of the modified job offer was not reasonable because his ATP was aware of his treatment recommendations and physical limitations when he approved the Claimant’s modified job offer.

Moral of the Story: An ATP’s treatment recommendations are not the same as work restrictions for purposes of a modified job duty offer.

 

He Said. She Said. Challenging an ALJ’s factual determinations with conflicting medical opinions: In a Colorado Court of Appeals decision, Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. v. ICAO, 17CA1959 (July 19, 2018)(nsfp), Respondents sought review of a final ICAO Order upholding an award of PTD benefits. The ATP found Claimant sustained brain, central nervous system, and psychiatric injuries in his work-related motor vehicle accident and was permanently and totally disabled. The first DIME physician found Claimant had reached MMI for the cervical, shoulder, and spine injuries but required additional treatment for the brain injury. Respondents sought a second DIME after substantial treatment had been rendered. The second DIME physician disagreed that Claimant suffered any permanent impairment from a brain injury, an injury to the central nervous system, or psychiatric issues. Claimant sought to overcome the DIME’s findings and the ALJ agreed, finding that Claimant was permanently and totally disabled. ICAO held the ALJ relied on several opinions of treating physicians in reaching his determination that Claimant sustained a traumatic brain injury that caused profound psychological dysfunction. While ICAO acknowledged the difference in medical opinions, it held the ALJ’s factual determinations were binding – even when there was conflicting evidence. ICAO held substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s findings and thus the Panel’s decision affirming the award of benefits should be sustained.

Moral of the Story: An ALJ’s factual determinations regarding the DIME’s findings and PTD benefits are difficult to overcome in claims with conflicting evidentiary interpretations because it is the ALJ’s discretion to determine credibility of witnesses with differing opinions.

 

Quantity > Quality: Substantial Employment to determine proper jurisdiction: In Turner v. ICAO, 17CA1647 (July 19, 2018) (nsfp), Claimant sought review of the dismissal of his claim on jurisdictional grounds. Claimant was a resident of British Columbia and a Canadian citizen. Claimant was hired as a truck driver by a Canadian based company to haul goods throughout Canada and the western United States. While making a lumber delivery in Henderson, Colorado, Claimant slipped on ice and sustained injuries to his hips, shoulders, and neck. At hearing, the ALJ noted Claimant was only entitled to benefits under Colorado law if he established that a substantial portion of his employment was performed in Colorado. Because 90% to 95% of Claimant’s working hours were outside of Colorado, the ALJ determined he lacked jurisdiction to hear the claim. Claimant alleged that his nine trips to various locations throughout Colorado over an eight-month period evidenced routine and regular work in the state. Claimant advocated a qualitative over quantitative analysis should be used in determining whether Colorado was the proper jurisdiction. ICAO noted that a substantial portion of the employee’s work must be performed in Colorado and that the quantitative analysis used by the ALJ was the appropriate standard. ICAO affirmed the Panel’s Order that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s determination that Claimant’s time in Colorado was insubstantial and did not meet the jurisdictional minimums.

Moral of the Story: Jurisdictional analysis for substantial employment is quantitative, not qualitative, in nature.

The Cross Contamination between Workers’ Compensation and OSHA: Considerations for Handling Blood-Borne Pathogen Claims in Colorado and Arizona.

Exposure to blood-borne pathogens presents unique risks in the work place. Workers in health care or in-resident home care are, on a daily basis, subject to the potential of disease transmitted by bodily fluids. These diseases range from methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), spinal meningitis, tuberculosis, hepatitis, to HIV. Given the Sharps Containerubiquitous daily potential for exposures to workers across the board, including direct patient care workers to maintenance workers to transport personnel, risk managers and adjusters need to understand the overlap with workers compensation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) rules. Understanding exposure and needlestick law is critical to containing risks as well as protecting employees from life-altering danger. [1]

 

The OSHA rules pertaining to disease transmitted though bodily fluids are found on the public domain at: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/bloodbornepathogens/gen_guidance.html. The federal regulations governing OSHA’s rules and role is found at 29 CFR 1910.1030. OSHA laws, since 2002, also conform to the federal Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act (NSPA) of 2000.[2] Congress in large part delegated the enforcement of the NSPA to OSHA. In turn, OSHA rules require employers evaluate controlled safety programs to keep employees safe from potential exposures and to implement engineering controls to effectuate any respective safety plan. The NSPA requires that “Requires certain employers to: (1) review and update exposure control plans to reflect changes in technology that eliminate or reduce such exposure, and document their consideration and implementation of appropriate commercially available and effective safer medical devices for such purpose; (2) maintain a sharps injury log, noting the type and brand of device used, where the injury occurred, and an explanation of the incident (exempting employers who are not required to maintain specified OSHA logs); and (3) seek input on such engineering and work practice controls from the affected health care workers (exempting employers who are not required to establish exposure control plans).”[3]  The federal NSPA and OSHA law do not alter the scope of workers compensation liability insurance coverage or impose additional coverage requirements upon employers. However, OSHA regulations do require the employer of an exposed employee set up an immediate confidential medical evaluation. Under OSHA standards, the evaluation: “This evaluation and follow-up must be: made available at no cost to the worker and at a reasonable time and place; performed by or under the supervision of a licensed physician or other licensed healthcare professional; and provided according to the recommendations of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) current at the time the procedures take place. In addition, laboratory tests must be conducted by an accredited laboratory and also must be at no cost to the worker. A worker who participates in post-exposure evaluation and follow-up may consent to have his or her blood drawn for determination of a baseline infection status but has the option to withhold consent for HIV testing at that time. In this instance, the employer must ensure that the worker’s blood sample is preserved for at least 90 days in case the worker changes his or her mind about HIV testing.”[4] The employee has recourse under OSHA regardless of state workers compensation laws and coverage to have the employer pay for lab tests and blood analysis to determine the presence of blood-borne illnesses.

 

One interesting aspect of the OSHA regulations deals with the employer-employment relationship of a physician using a health care facility under a contract for staff privileges.  Surgeons, for example, may have staff privileges at a hospital to perform surgeries they otherwise could not do in their office. According to OSHA’s interpretation of its own rules, “Under OSHA’s blood-borne pathogens compliance directive (OSHA Instruction CPL 02-02-069 [formerly CPL 2-2.69]) the status of the physician as an employer or employee is important to establish in order to determine the application of OSHA standards. According to the paragraph XI.D. in the directive, physicians “… may be cited if they create or control blood-borne pathogens hazards that expose employees at hospitals or other sites where they have staff privileges in accordance with the multi-employer worksite guidelines of CPL 02-00-124 [formerly CPL 2-0.124], Multi-Employer Citation Policy.”[5] In terms of needlestick or exposure cases in both Colorado and Arizona, an employer/carrier should always assess the corresponding contracts (or independent contractor status) to determine whether a what (or whose) particular workers compensation insurance policy applies in these situations.

 

Arizona has passed specific legislation pertaining to exposure risks. Section 23-1043.04, A.R.S., specifically deals with MRSA, spinal meningitis, and tuberculous exposures. Mere exposure to a needlestick is not an automatic claim for compensation. The workers must first file a claim with the ICA. The statute then requires, to sustain a claim: (1) The employee’s regular course of employment involves handling of or exposure to methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, spinal meningitis or tuberculosis; (2) Within thirty calendar days after a possible significant exposure that arises out of and in the course of employment, the employee reports in writing to the employer the details of the exposure. The employer shall notify its insurance carrier or claims processor of the report. Failure of the employer to notify the insurance carrier is not a defense to a claim by the employee; (3) For a claim involving methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, the employee must be diagnosed with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus within fifteen days after the employee reports pursuant to paragraph 2 of this subsection. (4) For a claim involving spinal meningitis, the employee is diagnosed with spinal meningitis within two to eighteen days of the possible significant exposure; (5) For a claim involving tuberculosis, the employee is diagnosed with tuberculosis within twelve weeks of the possible significant exposure.

 

What is also of interest for employers is that the respective Arizona statue contains protects the medical information of third parties. In the course of an exposure case, an employer may allege that a sexual partner or perhaps drug use caused the alleged condition. Under A.R.S. 23-1043.04(D) “a person alleged to be a source of a significant exposure shall not be compelled by subpoena or other court order to release confidential information relating to methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, spinal meningitis or tuberculosis either by document or by oral testimony. Evidence of the alleged source’s methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, spinal meningitis or tuberculosis status may be introduced by either party if the alleged source knowingly and willingly consents to the release of that information.” Proving an alternative source of the exposure may be challenging without court intervention.

 

The statutory provisions pertaining to HIV is found in section 23-1043.2, and the provisions pertaining to Hepatitis C is found in 23-1043.3. Each respective section has reporting requirements similar to 23-1043.3, and contain the same provision barring compelled blood tests of third parties. Additionally, an employee may file a notice with the Industrial Commission reporting a significant exposure to blood-borne illness.[6] The worker must also file a separate claim, for which the employer/carrier may then respond by operation of a Notice of Claim Status.

 

Colorado does not have specific statutory provisions concerning blood-borne illness exposures. The Colorado exposure analysis is traditionally done in the general rubric of whether an event caused an injury in the course of employment, and that the injury arose out of employment.[7] It is the claimant’s legal burden to prove a causal nexus with work.[8] In other words, whether a needlestick caused an injury requiring medical treatment to cure or relieve the effects of the respective industrial injury. If you have a needle stick or blood-borne illness exposure issue, please contact an attorney at Lee and Brown of specific guidance on these complex issues.

 

[1] For example, see the story of one health care worker exposed to a needle stick. https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/work-environment/health-safety/safe-needles/safe-needles-law/

[2] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-106publ430/html/PLAW-106publ430.htm

[3] https://www.congress.gov/bill/106th-congress/house-bill/5178

[4] https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_BloodborneFacts/bbfact04.pdf

[5] https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2003-02-20

[6] https://www.azica.gov/claims-significant-work-exposure

[7] C.R.S. section 8-41-301

[8] See. e.g., Manzanares v. Quality Uniform Linen Supply & Liberty Mutual WC #4-268-197 (ICAO 1999)

2018 LEGISLATIVE SUMMARY

BACKGROUND

The 2018 legislative session wrapped-up about a month ago.  There are always bills that have some workers’ compensation implications, or are directly sponsored by workers’ compensation groups.  This legislative session was marked by inactivity in the workers’ compensation area, rather than the usual active session.  Therefore, I will start with a review of what did not happen before discussing what did.

PRE-SESSION ISSUES NOT ADDRESSED LEGISLATIVELY

Several workers’ compensation groups traditionally consider areas ripe for legislative repair prior to the legislative session.  Primarily, Pinnacol Assurance, as the largest workers’ compensation carrier, the Colorado Self-insured Association (CSIA), representing entities that self-insure for workers’ compensation and the Workers’ Compensation Education Association (WCEA), representing injured workers.  Traditionally there is also communication and input from the Director between these groups and other stakeholders, that identifies other areas of the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act needing repair.  In most years this generates a negotiated Bill that passes through the Legislature and is signed by the Governor.  In 2018 no negotiated Bill was reached.  That does not mean the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act has reached a point of perfection.  There are still areas where a legislative fix may be needed.  Here are examples of areas not addressed legislatively in 2018.

The Loofbourrow problem:  As you may or may not be aware, there are ICAO decisions citing to the Loofbourrow decision that basically place claims where no indemnity has been paid into a non-claim limbo.  Harmen-Bergstadt, Inc. v. Loofbourrow, 320 P.3d 327 (Colo. 2014) is a case that loosely held that claims where temporary disability and permanent disability have not been paid, are not governed by a finding of maximum medical improvement.  This status calls into question whether a Final Admission of Liability filed on a no-lost-time claim is valid and whether a Division Independent Medical Examination (DIME) can be obtained in these claims, let alone what weight a DIME has if a DIME can be had at all.  Like Brigadoon these claims appear and then fade into the mist with nary proof they even existed.  This problem remains fertile for a legislative fix, but it did not happen in the 2018 session.

Interlocutory Orders: There remains an issue over whether an order can be appealed when no benefits have been granted or denied.  Decisions involving whether a benefit was granted or denied are murky.  As a general rule, to make sure a benefit is in play for there to be a sustainable appeal, always put a specific dollar figure assigned to a benefit before the hearing ALJ.  Until then solidifying what is an appealable order remains a possible area for a legislative fix, outlining an ability to appeal an order notwithstanding the grant or denial of benefits.

Reportable Claims:  Somewhat tied to the Loofbourrow problem is the issue of what constitutes a DOWC reportable claim.  The question of whether a claim should be reported after a certain amount of time receiving treatment is another possible legislative issue that may allow for a way to build around the Loofbourrow problem.  Once again, this was not legislatively addressed in the 2018 session, but may arise in the future.

SESSION ISSUES ADDRESED LEGISLATIVELY

Reciprocity:  Reciprocity allows for coverage in one state to be effectively applied in another state for employers who have employees working in that state.  It eliminates the need for buying workers’ compensation insurance to cover people working in Colorado from another state.  It is not uncommon for contiguous states to have reciprocity with each other for workers’ compensation coverage.  About 30 years ago, when Senate Bill 218 was passed, Colorado did not include its reciprocity statute and is one of the only states that did not have reciprocity with any other state.  This issue became important recently.  The Wyoming legislature was considering a statute to require employees from a Colorado employer working in Wyoming, to buy a Wyoming policy unless Colorado had reciprocity.  In 2018 Colorado passed HB 18-1308 that creates reciprocity with the contiguous states and eliminates this problem for employers.

Commercial Vehicle Operators and Similar Coverage: SB 8-178 was passed that excludes commercial vehicle operators, as defined under Section 42-4-235(1)(a)(I)(B), C.R.S., basically limousine drivers, from the definition of employee and allows players to obtain an occupational accident policy in lieu of coverage under a workers’ compensation policy.

Opioid Misuse:  Tangentially related to workers’ compensation, HB 18-1003 was passed.  This Bill sets up a committee and framework to study the substance abuse issues in Colorado associated with opioids.

BOTTOM LINE

There has been cooperation in the past between interest groups and stakeholders in fixing obvious problems in the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act.  This year there was cooperation; however, not much activity.  For a longtime Colorado enjoyed a Legislature split between the two main parties.  This kept radical changes from being proposed to the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act by either side.  With elections coming in November that could change and the next legislative session could end-up being much more active.

 

Injuries Resulting from Workplace Violence — When Are They Compensable?

We have all heard the grim news; a school in Parkland, a concert in Las Vegas, a nightclub in Orlando, a church in Charleston, a movie theater in Aurora.  The scenes have become far too common.  While we may think of the scenes of these places as serving a specific function, such as education, the location of each of these atrocities was also a workplace, making these acts a form of workplace violence.

 

While large-scale violent attacks grab the headlines, a Bureau of Justice Statistics Study found that 80 percent of workplace violence is non-life-threatening, verbal or physical assault.  http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/wv09pr.cfm.   The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines “workplace violence” broadly, as “violence or the threat of violence against workers”.  It can occur at, or outside, the workplace and can range from verbal threats and abuse to physical assault and homicide. However it manifests, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees alike.  OSHA estimates some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.  https://www.osha.gov/OSHDoc/data_General_Facts-workplace-violence.pdf.  Co-worker altercations, domestic situations brought to the workplace, and customer retaliation are all situations falling under OSHA’s broad definition of workplace violence. All could lead to compensable workers’ compensation claims, significant injuries, including death, and the associated financial loss.   But not all incidents of workplace violence causing injury result in a compensable claim.

 

Under Colorado’s Workers’ Compensation Act, an injury must arise out of, and in the course and scope of, employment to be compensable.  An injury occurs “in the course of” employment when it takes place within the time and place limits of the employment relationship and during an activity connected to the employee’s job-related functions.  An injury “arises out of employment” when it has its origin in an employee’s work-related functions and is sufficiently related to those functions to be part of the employee’s employment contract.

 

The Colorado Supreme Court has determined injuries which result from workplace violence are divided into three categories of causation, some of which are compensable, some not. The first category is assaults that have an inherent connection to the employment because of “enforced contacts” which result from the duties of the job. This includes assaults originating in arguments over work performance, work equipment, delivery of a paycheck or termination from work.

 

The second category is assaults which result from a “neutral force”.  A “neutral force” is one that is neither particular to the claimant nor the employment. This type of assault has been analyzed under the “positional risk” or “but for” test and is applied to injuries which result from stray bullets, roving lunatics, drunks, assaults by mistake and completely unexplained attacks.

 

The third category is assaults which are the result of a private dispute which the parties import to the work place. (E.g., Claimants shot by a co-worker who believed that the claimants had made obscene calls to the co-worker’s spouse). This category has been expanded to include assaults where the victim was specifically chosen or targeted.

 

Injuries from workplace violence resulting from “enforced contacts”, specifically resulting from the claimant’s job duties are compensable. However, the issue of whether the assault resulted from the “duties of the job” requires a factual determination you may want to present to an Administrative Law Judge.  Assault injuries from a “neutral force”, such as a completely unexplained shooting, are also compensable. In such situations, the Courts consider whether, “but for” the conditions and obligations of employment, the claimant would have been injured.

 

In contrast, injuries caused by a work place assault which results from a private or personal dispute imported to the workplace are not compensable. Thus, where the assault has no inherent connection to employment activities, compensability of the claimant’s injuries depends on whether the claimant was specifically targeted for the assault.

 

When evaluating the compensability of workplace violence claims, the employer should also be mindful of the exclusivity provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act.  An employer that has complied with the Act is granted immunity from common-law actions for damages, such as pain and suffering, mental distress, loss of enjoyment of life, lost earning capacity, etc., and its employees are limited to the remedies specified in the Act.  If an employee’s injuries result from an assault that is inherently connected to the employment or is attributable to neutral sources that are not personal to the victim or perpetrator, those injuries arise out of the employment for the purposes of workers’ compensation and the employee is barred from bringing a tort claim against his or her employer. However, employee claims are not barred by the Workers’ Compensation exclusivity provisions if the assault originates in matters personal to one or both parties.

 

Have questions? Please contact any of the attorneys at Lee & Brown, LLC.

 

Legal Connection Firm Newsletter – April 2017

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update on recent
developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.

Please follow us on LinkedIn


In the News

Lee + Kinder Super Lawyers 2017

 

Lee + Kinder Associates


Victory Lap


Joshua Brown Member, Lee and Brown LLC In Dillingham v. SkyWest Airlines, Inc. and ACE American Insurance, Co., Member Joshua Brown and Associate Kelsey Bowers successfully defeated Claimant’s attempt to prove a compensable left knee injury. Claimant tried to use two theories of compensability and argued that (1) there was a specific work event that aggravated his preexisting left knee osteoarthritis and (2) he developed a cumulative trauma injury to his left knee working over a prolonged period-of-time. Dr. Paz provided convincing testimony that Claimant had preexisting, severe osteoarthritis as a result of a prior stroke. He explained that the condition was not aggravated by a specific work incident or accelerated by prolonged work activities. The ALJ found that although Claimant experienced knee pain at work, that was not enough to establish a compensable claim.

 


Keran Gail Treece Member Lee & Brown LLCMember Karen Gail Treece defeated Claimant’s request for appeal in Newton v. True Value, W.C. No. 4-978-459 (ICAO April 4, 2017). Claimant injured his left hand at work. When Claimant reached MMI, Dr. Kawasaki assessed him with a 25% scheduled impairment, but Dr. Adams determined he had a 25% whole person impairment due to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Respondents admitted to Dr. Kawasaki’s impairment rating, but mistakenly attached Dr. Adams’ report to the FAL. Claimant sought hearing and argued Respondents were required to either admit to the 25% whole person rating or request a DIME. The ALJ held Respondents were not required to admit to the whole person rating because both Dr. Adams and Dr. Kawasaki were treating physicians. Therefore, Claimant had the burden to prove he had a whole person impairment rating, which he failed to prove. Claimant appealed and argued Respondents had to admit to Dr. Adams’ rating because she was “the” authorized treating provider. The Court held that “an” ATP could determine MMI and impairment. Dr. Kawasaki and Dr. Adams were both ATPs. When an ATP assigns an impairment listed in the schedule, Respondents may either file a FAL or dispute the rating at hearing. There is no requirement for a DIME for scheduled impairments. Whether Claimant’s impairment should be considered scheduled or whole person is a question of fact for an ALJ. Claimant’s appeal was denied.


Sheila Toborg Attorney Lee & Brown LLCIn Fincham v. The Home Depot, Of Counsel Sheila Toborg and Associate Stephen Abbott successfully defended on the issue of compensability. A Claimant alleged that he injured his right shoulder while unloading a refrigerator from a truck. However, the Claimant did not seek treatment until several months after the alleged incident. Furthermore, the Claimant exhibited numerous degenerative changes in his shoulder consistent with his active lifestyle of playing softball and golf. Respondent argued that these factors made it unlikely that Claimant’s shoulder condition was related to the alleged incident. The ALJ agreed and denied compensability.

 


Frank Cavanuagh Of Counsel Lee & Brown LLCOf Counsel Frank Cavanaugh successfully argued that apportionment was appropriate and could be determined at hearing without first securing a DIME. Franklin v. Pueblo City Schools. W.C. No. 4-988-862. Claimant suffered a work injury to his low back and was placed at MMI with a 15% whole person impairment. Claimant had a prior low back injury from 1998 with a 5% whole person impairment rating; however, the medical records for this prior injury had been destroyed. At hearing, Claimant challenged the apportionment noted in the FAL and argued that apportionment cannot apply without medical documentation. The Administrative Law Judge agreed with Respondents that apportionment was appropriate and that the issue can be decided at hearing without first securing a DIME.

 

Fran McCracken Of Counsel Lee & Brown LLCOf Counsel M. Frances McCracken successfully defended against Claimant’s claim for a low back injury in Madonna v. Walmart Stores, Inc and New Hampshire Insurance Co., W.C. 4-997-641. Claimant had a lengthy history of intermittent neck pain, cervical surgeries, paralysis resulting from a surgery, and coronary artery disease. Claimant suffered an alleged injury while at work and underwent extensive medical treatment for neck pain. At no point did Claimant treat for back pain. At hearing, Claimant for the first time alleged that he injured his back, not his neck. Dr. Reiss provided convincing testimony that Claimant’s symptoms and need for treatment were likely more related to his preexisting conditions. The ALJ agreed with Respondents that Claimant failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish that he suffered an industrial injury.

 

John Abraham Attorney Lee & Brown LLCIn Tortorella v. Mariner Healthcare Inc., Of Counsel John Abraham successfully withdrew Respondents’ Final Admission of Liability that authorized reasonable, necessary and related medical maintenance benefits. Claimant sustained an admitted injury to her lumbar spine on April 18, 2005. Claimant underwent conservative medical care and reached MMI on March 7, 2007. Respondents filed a FAL on February 8, 2015, admitting for maintenance medical benefits. Claimant received maintenance care from her treating physicians since 2008. Mr. Abraham produced an IME report from Dr. Fall which persuasively maintained that there was no objective medical evidence that Claimant exhibited any functional gains as a result of her extensive maintenance care. Dr. Fall persuasively opined that Claimant no longer required medical maintenance care. Mr. Abraham also entered into evidence surveillance which documented Claimant functioning beyond her stated level of limitations. The ALJ found the surveillance video and Dr. Fall’s opinions credible and persuasive. The ALJ ordered that Respondents were permitted to withdraw their February 8, 2008 FAL and the admission of reasonable, necessary and related medical maintenance benefits.

 

Lee & Brown LLC Denver AttorneysIn McClelland v. The Home Depot, Associate Stephen Abbott successfully defended against a claim for disfigurement based on waiver. Claimant underwent surgery and reached MMI. The claim was closed on a FAL without a disfigurement award. Claimant subsequently reopened the claim for additional surgery and then sought a disfigurement award for his surgical scarring from the first surgery. Mr. Abbott persuasively argued that Claimant had waived his right to a disfigurement award for the first surgery by failing to object to the FAL. Further, reopening the claim did not reopen the issue of any disfigurement existing at the time of the FAL. The ALJ agreed and denied Claimant’s claim for disfigurement benefits as to the first surgery.

 


Cases You Should Know

If you think insurance is expensive, try being uninsured: In Dami Hospitality, LLC v. ICAO, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that imposing a fine of over $840,000 on a smaller employer for failure to maintain WC insurance was excessive and the Court should have considered other factors. (February 23, 2017, Colo. Ct. Appeals). While the employer failed to maintain insurance on two occasions, it argued that the high penalty was unreasonable because it was grossly disproportionate to its ability to pay and the harm caused by the lack of insurance. The Court of Appeals concluded that the 8th Amendment’s protection against excessive fines applies to natural persons as well as corporations. As such, it set aside the Director’s Order and instructed the lower court to consider additional facts that were relevant to the employer’s specific circumstances. These facts included 1) the employer’s ignorance that the required WC insurance had lapsed, 2) the failure of the Division to notify the employer of the lapse for almost five years, 3) the employer’s ability to pay the fine, and 4) the actual or potential harm to employees for the failure to maintain insurance.


Moral of the Story: Corporations are entitled to 8th Amendment protections against excessive fines, so the Director or ALJ must consider facts that are relevant to the employer’s specific circumstances, such as ability to pay, before issuing a penalty for failure to maintain WC insurance.


Finality is not the language of politics: In Evergreen Caissons, Inc. v. ICAO and Jennifer Munoz Botello, the Colorado Court of Appeals held the ALJ’s and ICAO’s separate Orders were not final for purposes of review. Decedent died as a result of his industrial injuries. The employer admitted death benefits for the Decedent’s minor children, but contested whether Claimant Jennifer Munoz Botello was a surviving spouse for purposes of entitlement to death benefits. The hearing ALJ held that Ms. Botello was a surviving spouse, and directed the parties to set a hearing to determine the remaining issues. The employer petitioned the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (ICAO) to review the ALJ’s Order. ICAO dismissed the petition without prejudice, finding that the hearing issues were limited to whether Ms. Botello was a dependent, as well as the allocation of benefits amongst the dependents. Thus, ICAO concluded that the ALJ’s Order did not award death benefits to Claimant Botello and was therefore not final and could not be appealed. The Court of Appeals agreed with ICAO, citing that for an order to be final and subject to appeal, it must grant or deny benefits or penalties. Furthermore, the Court held the ALJ must determine the amount before the ruling is “final” for purposes of review. As such, the Court of Appeals noted that the ALJ did not award death benefits, but merely determined whether or not Ms. Botello was a dependent. Therefore, the Court of Appeals denied the employer’s appeal.


Moral of the story: For an order to be final, it must grant or deny benefits or penalties. Furthermore, an order must determine the amount of benefits and/or penalties before it is final for purposes of review.


Keep Calm and Carry (Complete) Insurance: In City of Lakewood v. Safety National Casualty., the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, denying indemnification for the City’s defense costs. A City police officer was killed by friendly fire, and his widow alleged that the City and its officers violated the Decedent’s Federal Constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The City sought indemnification for its defense costs, as well as the costs incurred by the officers named in the lawsuit, but the insurance company denied coverage. The District Court concluded that a § 1983 claim does not arise under an employer liability law and granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that § 1983 is not a workers’ injury statute that displaces common law claims with a new cause of action. Nor can § 1983 be classified as a common law claim as it is a Federal Constitutional claim. Had the insurance company intended to cover claims arising out of federal law, it is likely that it would have cited to federal references, which was not the case in this matter. As such, the Court of Appeals held that the City’s defense costs, which were sustained because of liability imposed a result of the widow’s § 1983 claim, did not arise from a state workers’ compensation or employer’s liability law and were, therefore, not covered by the insurance company’s policy.


Additionally, the police officers’ claims for indemnification were also dismissed after the Court of Appeals held that the City’s indemnification payments to the officers named in the lawsuit were not classified as “losses” – actual payments, less recoveries, legally made by the employer to the employees and their dependents. The Court of Appeals also held that the term “employee” refers to an injured employee, not to an employee potentially responsible for the injury, such as the named officers. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals was unwilling to contradict the clear intention of the insurance company’s policy to cover only workers’ injury claims. Therefore, the City was not entitled to reimbursement from the insurance company for the incurred costs of the named officers.


Moral of the story: Unless specifically addressed in a policy, the Federal Constitutional right under § 1983 does not mandate insurance companies to indemnify payments to named parties arising from the applicable insurance companies’ policies aimed at covering injured workers.


Want to scare the neighbors? Name your wifi “FBI Surveillance Van”: In Ross v. St. Thomas More Hospital, W.C. 4-985-129 (February 16, 2017), Claimant sought review of an ALJ’s Order denying and dismissing her claim for additional medical benefits. The ALJ reviewed a surveillance video and specifically found that Claimant’s testimony regarding her pain level and functional abilities were out of proportion to the objective findings on the surveillance. The ALJ also credited Respondents expert’s testimony over Claimant’s treating physician. On appeal, Claimant argued that the ALJ erred in admitting the surveillance tapes. Claimant argued that the surveillance was only provided to her 10 days prior to hearing in violation of W.C.R.P. Rule 9-1(E). ICAO explained that the ALJ did not abuse his discretion in allowing the surveillance tapes into evidence. ICAO determined that the proper relief under Rule 9-1(E) was for the Court to entertain a continuance, which Claimant specifically declined. ICAO determined that the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ’s Order was affirmed.


Moral of the story: An ALJ’s decisions on evidentiary rulings will not be disturbed without a showing of an abuse of discretion leading to a reversible error.


De minimus non curat lex (“the law does not concern itself with trifles”): In Arnhold v. United Parcel Service, W.C. 4-979-208-02 (February 24, 2017), Claimant sought review of an Order denying the Claimant’s request for penalties to be assessed against the Respondent insurance carrier. At hearing, Claimant sought a 10-day penalty for late payment of TTD benefits. The adjuster testified that she was attempting to verify the amount owed before sending a check to Claimant two days after the due date. The ALJ determined that there was no credible or objective evidence that Respondents knew that they were in violation of the Order. On appeal, ICAO reversed and remanded. ICAO held that the testimony confirmed that the check was mailed two days after the deadline, thus supporting a penalties award. Nevertheless, ICAO took note of the lack of objective evidence put forward by Claimant and opined that more than a de minimis penalty was not justified. ICAO remanded the claim back to the ALJ to determine the amount to be awarded for a 2-day penalty.


Moral of the story: Ensure that all monies agreed to are issued in a timely fashion.

COLORADO UNINSURED EMPLOYERS AND A POSSIBLE NEW FUND

BACKGROUND

There has been growing governmental concern in the State of Colorado over uninsured employers. Changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act in 2005 created stiffer fines for employers who fail to comply with mandated coverage for workers’ compensation benefits. The Division of Workers’ Compensation Director is required to impose a fine of $250 per day for an initial offense. The 2005 changes to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-43-409 included an increased fine range for companies that were non-compliant for a second time. Those companies now face up to a $500 per day fine. This statute specifically states that the ‘fine’ levied under the statute shall be the ‘penalty’ within the meaning of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-43-304, but is in addition to the increase in benefits owed under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-43-408.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-43-409 governs the procedures for non-compliant employers. First, the Director is empowered to investigate and notify the non-compliant employer of their right to request a prehearing conference over the coverage issue. Second, if the Director determines that the employer is non-compliant, then the Director must take at least one of the following actions: (1) order the non-compliant employer to cease and desist its business operations while it is non-compliant; and/or (2) assess fines. After a cease and desist order is entered, the Attorney General immediately starts proceedings against the non-compliant employer to stop doing business. Further imposition of any fine under this statute, after appeal time frames have run, can be lodged with the District Court as a judgment. 25% of any fine collected would be directed to the workers’ compensation cash fund under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-44-112, with the balance going to the state general fund. Finally, any fine under the statute is in addition to the increased benefits owed by the non-compliant employer under the preceding statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-43-408. This statute increases ordinary benefit exposure by 50% for non-compliant employers and puts in place a bonding requirement for the non-compliant employer.

 

BALANCING INTERESTS

Significant fines handed down to non-compliant employers have received press attention in the past. As reported in the Denver Post on August 29, 2016, a student run café at the University of Colorado was shut down after it was fined more than $224,000 for not having workers’ compensation coverage. The Complete Colorado, a blog run by local political commenter Todd Shepard, documented a $271,000 fine against a Longmont garden business for failing to comply with coverage requirements, as well as a $516,700 fine levied against fast food restaurant, El Trompito Taqueria. These fine amounts increased quickly as the result of the daily multiplier. The time frames of noncompliance were largely assumed by the Director because the employer could not prove coverage during these intervals. For a small employer to receive such a large fine can effectively put the employer out of business, leaving the injured worker with no practical recourse for benefits.

There are mitigating circumstances that may reduce fines levied against non-compliant employers. For instance, if the employer can show compliance once it has become aware of a lapse in coverage, this will mitigate the fine amount. A non-compliant employer paying benefits, essentially stepping into the shoes of a would-be insurer, also helps mitigate the fine.

The Director is obligated to try to ensure compliance while not effectively forcing employers out of business. This should be done with an eye toward trying to keep injured employees from having no benefit flow or treatment. When an injured worker has no coverage, it forces the injured worker to seek medical treatment through personal healthcare insurance or, or if no health care coverage exists, through self-pay methods, emergency room visits, treatment write-offs and/or charity. Many healthcare insurers reject coverage for treatment of a work injury since that liability should fall on a workers’ compensation carrier or employer. Further losses from unpaid and unreimbursed medical treatment through emergency rooms, write-offs or charity are ultimately passed on to employers and employees at large, who bear the burden of increasing insurance premiums as the result of uninsured employers and their injured employees.

 

LEGISLATIVE CHANGES

Proposed House Bill 17-1119 attempts to address payment for injured workers who do not have coverage through their non-compliant employer. HB 17-1119 is currently a proposed Bill, but is likely to be approved later this year. The Bill was introduced on January 20, 2017, and must still pass the State House and Senate, as well as be signed into law by the Governor.

Coverage:  The fund would cover claims occurring on or after January 1, 2019 that have been adjudicated compensable, where the employer has been determined uninsured and has failed to pay the full amount of benefits ordered. The fund does not cover a partner in a partnership or owner of a sole proprietorship, the director or officer of a corporation, a member of an LLC, the person who is responsible for obtaining workers’ compensation coverage and failed to do so, someone who is eligible for coverage but elected to opt out, or anyone who is not an “employee” under the terms of the Act.

Funding:  The fund is made up of the fines and other revenue collected by the Division that is specifically allocated to the fund, along with any gifts, grants, donations or appropriations. There is also a separate 25% paid to the fund based on benefit amounts owed by non-compliant employers.

Governance:  The fund is run by a board that includes the Director and four individuals representing each of the following: employers, labor organizations, insurers and a claimant attorney.  The board serves for a term of 3 years and may be reappointed with the exception of the initial board members. With regards to the initial board, one member shall serve for an initial term of three years, two members for a two-year term and one member for a one year term.  No one can serve more than three consecutive terms.  Benefits are to be paid at the ordinary rates. If the fund does not have enough money in the fund, the board can reduce the rates.  The board is unpaid.

Powers:  The fund has ordinary powers attendant to handling workers’ compensation claims.  Of interest, the fund has the power to intervene as a party in a case involving an uninsured employer, or other potentially responsible entity. Upon acceptance of the claim into the fund, a lien is created against any assets of the employer and its principles for the amount due as compensation. This lien has priority over all other liens except delinquent tax payment liens.  The lien can be perfected by filing in the appropriate court. Further, the fund becomes something akin to a secured creditor of any insolvent employer for amounts the fund determines may be needed to pay uninsured losses. Payment by the fund does not relieve the uninsured employer of payment obligations for benefits and the fund has the power to pursue any employer who defaults on those payments in District Court.

 

BOTTOM LINE

The proposed legislation creates a small safety net for injured workers of uninsured employers.  Given the ever-increasing costs of medical care, there is a valid question as to whether funding would be adequate to cover workers’ compensation benefits claimed by the injured workers.  Further, it will be interesting to see if respondents may be required to give notice to the fund in cases where liability is being adjudicated on a statutory employer issue. The fund may have a recognizable interest in such litigation, as the burden of paying workers’ compensation benefits would fall on the fund should there be a determination of no coverage. It is not unusual for a carrier or employer to settle potential statutory employer liability on a “denied” basis as opposed to proceeding to litigation, where adjudication might make statutory employer liability clear. The fund intervening in this type of case may prevent pre-adjudication settlement from occurring without some consideration being paid to the fund in the “denied” settlement as well.

Division Proposed Changes to W.C.R.P. Rule 17 Exhibit 5 – Cumulative Trauma Disorders

W.C.R.P. Rule 17 contains the Medical Treatment Guidelines promulgated by the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Several corresponding exhibits discuss the applicable medical criteria regarding injuries to different body parts and recommended treatment. Exhibit 5 addresses cumulative trauma disorders and the causation matrices involved in guiding physicians to assess whether an occupational disease may be work related. The Division has proposed updates to the matrices to specifically address certain scenarios facing injured workers and the applicable statutes under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Also, there have been additional journals, studies, and treatises better addressing the anatomy behind some of the cumulative trauma disorders and causation. The following will help outline some of the updates to the Guidelines proposed by the Division.

 

The current version of the cumulative trauma Medical Treatment Guidelines were revised on September 16, 2010 and became effective on October 30, 2010. These Guidelines helped provide a framework to better address causation and clarified primary and secondary risk factors associated with some of the disorders. Physicians could now have a somewhat clear roadmap to address primary and secondary work factors in the workplace and narrow down whether an injured workers’ alleged condition was causally related to their job duties. Among the issues that were clarified were tasks such as keyboarding, mousing, the use of hand tools, and the repetitive task cycles and durations of each of activities in which an injured worker may be exposed to in the workplace.

 

When assessing causation, the Division’s Guidelines indicate the following:

Cumulative trauma related conditions (CTC) of the upper extremity comprise a heterogeneous group of diagnoses which include numerous specific clinical entities including disorders of the muscles, tendons and tendon sheaths, nerves, joints and neurovascular structures. The terms “cumulative trauma disorder”, “repetitive motion syndrome”, “repetitive strain injury”, “myofascial pain” and other similar nomenclatures are umbrella terms that are not acceptable, specific diagnoses. The health care provider must provide specific diagnoses in order to appropriately educate, evaluate, and treat the patient. Examples include: de Quervain’s disease, cubital tunnel syndrome, and lateral/medial epicondylitis (epicondylalgia).

Many patients present with more than one diagnosis, which requires a thorough upper extremity and cervical evaluation by the health care provider. Furthermore, there must be a causal relationship between work activities and the diagnosis (See, Section D.3 Initial Diagnostic Procedures, Medical Causation Assessment). The mere presence of a diagnosis that may be associated with cumulative trauma does not presume work-relatedness unless the appropriate work exposure is present. Mechanisms of injury for the development of cumulative trauma related conditions have been controversial. However, repetitive awkward posture, force, vibration, cold exposure, and combinations thereof are generally accepted as occupational risk factors for the development of cumulative trauma related conditions. Evaluation of cumulative trauma related conditions require an integrated approach that may include ergonomics assessment, clinical assessment, past medical history and psychosocial evaluation on a case-by-case basis.

The normal working age population may often have non-specific pain complaints that require minimum treatment and may be considered part of the normal aging process. When pain continues or a complete history indicates a potential for other diagnoses, a medical workup may be necessary to screen for other diseases. However, in cases where there is no specific diagnosis and corresponding work related etiology, the work-up should generally be performed outside of the workers’ compensation system.

When applying the algorithm in Exhibit 5, the first step requires the physician to establish the diagnosis for the patient. Once completed, the second step requires the assessing physician to obtain the injured workers’ job duties and clearly define the specific tasks involved. The physician may require a jobsite evaluation to determine each task. The third step focusses on each specific job duty and whether it classifies as a primary or secondary risk factor. Primary and secondary risk factors both involve measuring force and repetition over different periods of time.

 

Currently, if neither a primary or secondary risk factor are present in the job duties of the injured worker, the condition is presumed to not be work related. If there are one or more identifiable primary risk factors, and the risk factor is physiologically related to the diagnosis, then the condition may be work related. If the primary risk factor is not physiologically related with no secondary risk factors, then again the condition is likely not work related. Once a physician arrives at identifying secondary risk factors, the fourth step in the algorithm goes a bit further and requires the physician to identify diagnostic-based risk factor tables to narrow down causation. There are several non-work related factors in assessing causation, such as the patients’ age, gender, whether the patient uses tobacco products, etc., that help in determining a non-work related cause.

 

Most of the algorithm and causation criteria remain unchanged in the Division’s latest proposals. Only certain portions have been revised to take into consideration particular nuances in the primary and secondary risk factors. One of the proposed changes to the Guidelines indicates that in the case of an aggravation or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition, the physician will now need to make an individualized causation decision based on the presence of other accompanying conditions. The physician must take each patient on a case by case basis.

 

Another proposed change is the increased amount of force but reduced task cycles and durations as primary risk factors. Force and repetition, coupled with duration, now require six hours of the use of two pounds of pinch force or ten pounds hand force 3 times or more per minute. The secondary risk factors have been reduced from 4 hours to 3 with the same two pounds of pinch force or ten pounds of hand force 3 times or more per minute. The physicians will have to apply the same steps in the algorithm to reach their conclusions; however, the specific criteria for primary and secondary risk factors have been updated based on the latest studies and literature. These are not the only changes to the Guidelines. Certain other updates have been made depending on the specific primary or secondary risk factor being addressed, (i.e. awkward posture, computer work, the use of handheld vibratory power tools, and cold working environments).

 

When a claimant alleges a particular occupational disease in which Exhibit 5 of the Medical Treatment Guidelines will be applied to determine causation, it is best to seek an Independent Medical Examination with a physician knowledgeable in applying the causation matrix. As part of the investigation of the claim, the IME physician should also be provided with a specific job description or worksite evaluation to properly identify each of the job duties that the injured worker performs. Most treating physicians will only obtain direct knowledge of the injured workers’ job duties directly from the injured worker. This oftentimes provides a skewed perception of the specific job duties, which in turn skews the overall analysis by the physician. The treating physician may find a claim to be work related when it should not be if the algorithm was properly applied.

 

If the IME physician has the specific job description/ergonomics assessment, coupled with medical records to establish the proper diagnosis, the physician will be in a better position to properly apply the causation matrices and provide a solid framework for reaching a causation determination. The IME physicians’ report can then be sent to the treating physician to properly assess causation and provide treatment to the injured worker or, in some cases, prevent treatment from being provided to the injured worker when it is not work-related, thus saving on medical costs.

 

The proposed changes to Rule 17 are not yet in effect. These are proposed changes but no rule making hearing has been announced. We suggest checking the Division website periodically. Once the changes do go into effect, we will make an announcement and let you know what changes were approved.

 

For additional questions regarding updates to the Medical Treatment Guidelines or recommendations when confronted with a particular issue on causation, please contact the attorneys at Lee + Kinder LLC.

Legal Connection Firm Newsletter – December 2016

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update on recent developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.

LinkedIn Lee & Brown LLC


In the News

Members Joshua Brown, Joseph Gren and Of Counsel John Abraham attended the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in New Orleans November 29 through December 2. The conference is held annually by various clients, vendors, and sponsors in an effort to stay abreast of industry trends and managing client needs. Mr. Brown, Mr. Gren and Mr. Abraham represented Lee + Kinder LLC and participated in the expo held at the convention center. They had the opportunity to network with both vendors and clients in addition to discussing upcoming needs for 2017 and changes to Colorado law.

 

Lee + Kinder LLC would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

 


Victory Lap

Joe gren Attorney Lee & BrownMember Joseph W. Gren successfully won dismissal of a claim for penalties in Arnhold v. United Parcel Service and Liberty Mutual Insurance. Claimant was seeking penalties against Respondents for a late payment of TTD award pursuant to a prior Order. Mr. Gren, through testimony of the insurance adjuster, was able to argue that the adjuster acted objectionably reasonable in the actions taken pursuant to the Order. The ALJ found that the adjuster was credible and that the adjuster acted objectionably reasonable in her adjusting of the claim. The ALJ further found that the Claimant failed to meet her burden of proof, under the cure provision, that a penalty should be imposed in this matter. The claim for penalties was denied and dismissed.

 

Fran McCracken Attorney Lee & BrownOf Counsel Frances McCracken successfully defeated the Pro Se Claimant’s requests for temporary disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and medical benefits in Jaterka v. Johnson & Johnson and Indemnity Insurance Company of North America. Respondents previously filed a FAL that admitted for a 0% impairment rating for the work-related left cubital tunnel syndrome and lateral epicondylitis. At hearing, Claimant sought to reopen the claim on the basis that the left shoulder surgery that she underwent through her personal insurance was related to the work injury. Ms. McCracken successfully argued that Claimant was jurisdictionally barred from challenging MMI and the determination that the left shoulder complaints were not related to the work injury because Claimant did not timely file an objection to the FAL or pursue the DIME. ALJ Edie agreed that the relatedness of the shoulder injury was conclusively determined by the ATP at the time of MMI and could not be challenged in a reopening proceeding. ALJ Edie dismissed Claimant’s request to reopen the claim and denied the requests for medical and indemnity benefits related to the left shoulder injury.

 


Joseph Gren Attorney Lee & Brown

 

 

 

 

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 take 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.
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Cases You Should Know

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. ICAO reaffirmed established Colorado law that ALJs have broad discretion when determining a claimant’s Average Weekly Wage (AWW) in Cruz v. Sacramento Drilling Inc. and Travelers Property Casualty Company of America. W.C. No. 4-999-129 (ICAO October 24, 2016). In this claim, Claimant sustained an injury two weeks after beginning a new job. At hearing, Claimant argued that the AWW should be based on a 60-hour workweek because that was the number of hours originally offered by the employer and he worked 59 hours the week prior to his injury. The employer argued that following the injury, Claimant never worked 60-hour weeks and neither did similarly-situated employees. The employer argued that employees are not guaranteed hours and the AWW should not be based on the original offer. Nonetheless, the ALJ used the 60-hour workweek because the offer of employment was for 60 hours per week and the brief work history was consistent with the offer. ICAO upheld the ALJ’s Order and stressed that the ALJ properly utilized his discretion to determine the AWW. Moral of the Story: Employers should not promise a specific amount of hours to be worked in a job offer unless there is absolute certainty with the guaranteed number of hours.

 

Oooohhh Burn! ICAO recently determined that the higher statutory cap for disfigurement benefits is applicable for any type of burn scar and not just for facial burns and extensive scarring. Lambert v. Sturgeon Electric Co. and Zurich American, W.C. No. 4-987-545 (ICAO October 28, 2016). The ALJ awarded Claimant $6,000 in Disfigurement benefits for two burn scars on his arms that were 3.5 inches by 2 inches. Respondents appealed and argued that the disfigurement award should have been capped at $4,673.47 because the higher cap is only available for “extensive” scarring. ICAO reviewed the statute, which indicates that the higher cap applies to “extensive body scars or burn scars” and determined that the cap applies to both extensive body scars and any burn scars and upheld the award. Moral of the Story: If an employee is burned, the respondents will pay.

 

The phantom injury: ICAO recently found that in the case of an unexplained fall, Claimant still has the burden of proving that there was an actual injury. Magali-Tamayo v. Trioak Foods West and Travelers Insurance Company of Connecticut, W.C. No. 4-965-037 (ICAO October 28, 2016). Claimant was found lying on the floor at work with no recollection of how she got there. Claimant argued that her ongoing dizziness and cognitive issues were related to a head injury sustained during the fall. She argued that under the City of Brighton analysis, the event would be considered a neutral risk as an “unexplained fall” that would not have occurred but for the fact that she was at work. The ALJ concluded that Claimant failed to prove that she sustained any type of head injury that day that would be related to her symptoms. ICAO upheld the Order and found that if a claimant fails to prove that there is a nexus between the conditions of the employment and an actual injury, the claim will not be compensable regardless of the City of Brighton categories of risk analysis. Moral of the Story: If there is an unexplained fall, the claimant still has the burden to prove that there was an actual injury.

 

Buckle up. ICAO affirmed the ALJ’s determination holding Respondents did not meet their burden of proof in proving that failure to use a safety device should result in a 50% reduction in Claimant’s benefits. Shaikh v. Colorado Springs Transportation and Old Republic Ins. Co., W.C. No. 4-968-013 (ICAO April 15, 2016). Claimant was a taxi cab driver who was not wearing her safety belt when she was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Hearing was held over Respondents’ reduction of Claimant’s benefits by 50% due to her failure to use a safety device (the safety belt) provided by the employer. The ALJ determined that Respondents offered no persuasive evidence that Claimant would not have sustained the same injuries had she kept her safety belt on; thus, Respondents were not entitled to reduce Claimant’s compensation by 50%. ICAO upheld the ALJ’s determination and stressed that the mere occurrence of an injury and a claimed cause does not require the ALJ to draw the inference of causation. Moral of the Story: If an injured worker fails to use a safety device, Respondents must further prove that failure to use the safety device resulted in a worker’s injuries.

 

You choose, you lose. ICAO affirmed the ALJ’s decision that Claimant exercised his right to select a treating physician through his words and conduct. Williams v. Halliburton Energy Services and ACE American Ins. Co., W.C. No. 4-995-888 (ICAO April 18, 2016). Claimant was directed to Injury Care of Colorado for treatment of his work injury. Over thirty days after the injury, the employer provided Claimant with a designated provider list. Claimant hand wrote that he chose Injury Care of Colorado and he continued to receive conservative treatment. Once Claimant hired an attorney, he wished to change to his ATP, Dr. Miller. Respondents contested the change. The ALJ determined that Claimant signified through his words and conduct that he exercised his right of selection and chose Injury Care of Colorado as his ATP. ICAO upheld the ALJ’s Order and found there was substantial evidence to show that Claimant demonstrated by his actual conduct in undergoing treatment at Injury Care of Colorado that he had made his selection. Moral of the Story: A claimant’s conduct may demonstrate his choice in ATP after the right of medical selection passes to him.

 

DIMEs have a lot of weight, but the skinny is: DIMEs may not make up surgeries. In Serena v. ICAO, W.C. No. 4-922-344 (nsfp), Claimant sustained an industrial injury to both shoulders, and underwent bilateral shoulder surgery. The DIME physician provided Claimant with a 10% impairment rating for each shoulder for subacromial arthroplasty (joint replacement) surgery. Respondents sought to overcome the DIME. Respondents argued the DIME physician clearly erred in providing the 10% impairment rating for arthroplasty because the Claimant did not undergo this procedure. The ALJ determined Respondents failed to prove the DIME erred. The ALJ acknowledged Claimant did not undergo an arthoroplasty procedure. Nevertheless, the ALJ determined the DIME physician had discretion to provide additional impairment for “derangement” in accordance with the Division Impairment Rating Tips. Respondents appealed. The Court of Appeals acknowledged the DIME physician has discretion under the Impairment Rating Tips to provide impairment for derangement when an injured worker undergoes surgery. The Court of Appeals noted, however, that it was clear the DIME physician provided the 10% impairment under the mistaken belief the Claimant underwent arthroplasty. The Court of Appeals found the DIME physician erred. Moral of the Story: We recommend carefully reviewing DIME reports to ensure the physician is rating the correct body parts and properly following rating procedures.

NEW OVERTIME RULES

The Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) new overtime rules take effect December 1, 2016,usdol_seal and employers should be reviewing and modifying their compensation and payroll practices in response. Here is a link to the new regulations adopted by the Department of Labor:

http://webapps.dol.gov/FederalRegister/PdfDisplay.aspx?DocId=28355

As part of this preparation, employers must consider whether and how any changes to their compensation structures will affect their employee benefit plans.

The new overtime rules increase the salary levels at which executive, administrative, and professional workers may be considered “exempt” under the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”) from overtime pay when a work week exceeds 40 hours. Initially, the standard salary level will increase from $455 to $913 per week and the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employee exemption will increase from $100,000 to $134,004 per year.  In addition to these initial compensation level bumps, additional upward adjustments are scheduled to occur every three years thereafter.

The immediate impact on this change is that currently classified “exempt” employees under the lower salary level, will no longer qualify for this status.  As a result, if an employee is no longer exempt under the FLSA, overtime must be paid for work performed beyond the 40-hour work week.

Employers need to respond to these changes in a number of ways.  Some are raising base salaries in order to classify additional employees as “exempt.”  Others are planning to simply pay overtime where necessary.  Others are planning to cap hours at 40 so that no overtime need be paid, or to meet their needs with part-time workers.

Regardless of the planned changes, effects on the employer’s benefit plans must be considered.  The DOL’s new overtime rules will require many employers to make sweeping and expensive changes to their compensation practices.  These changes may impact employee benefit plans in both intended and unintended ways.  Employers are urged to conduct a thorough benefit plan analysis before making any sweeping compensation changes.

If you have questions about the rule, or how it may affect your company, please contact us.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RULES OF PROCEDURE CHANGES Effective 9/14/16

Amendment 69 Colorado

Worker’s Compensation Rules of Procedure Changes

EFFECTIVE 9/14/16

 

 

The Division of Workers’ Compensation recently changed and revised several Rules. These changes became effective September 14, 2016. Employers and carriers participated in public comment, voicing concerns over this change since it will certainly create overpayments.  Frank Cavanaugh of Lee + Kinder, LLC participated in these public comments on behalf of the Colorado Self-Insured Association.

 

Several changes are more substantive than others and track statutory amendments adopted by the legislature in the last session.  For example, changes to Rule 5-5 regarding the filing of final admissions of liability will affect day-to-day claims handling.  Rule 5-5 now requires the physician’s narrative report, along with the M164 and measurement sheets, be attached to the final admission of liability.  In addition, this Rule now requires that the final admission of liability state a position on maintenance medical benefits, making specific reference to the medical report including the name of the physician and the date of the report.  Failure to properly abide by these requirements may void a final admission of liability and potentially lead to imposition of penalties by the Director and/or audit issues. Rules 8-6 and 8-7 also track legislative changes over requests for a change of physician.   An original treating physician’s role remains in place and does not terminate until there is an initial visit with the new physician.  Further, a request for change of physician and a response to the request must now be on a specific form, WC197. Please also be aware that Rules 16 and 18 are undergoing changes and have not yet been finalized.  We will apprise you of these additional changes once they occur.

 

  • Rule 1:

1-1 “Service” is now defined as delivery by US mail, hand delivery, facsimile or, with consent of the party being served, email.

Rule 1-2 contains language from Civil Rule of Procedure 6 over computation of time.  It outlines that you do not count the day of the act; however, you do count the last day in the time period unless it is a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday.  If that is the case the timeframe moves to the next day.

Rule 1-4 now states that unless it is specifically allowed by the Division documents may not be filed with the division by email.

 

  • Rule 5

Rule 5-2 still requires a statement regarding liability for any claim assigned a WC number, or when the first report of injury should have been filed; however, the first report of injury has to be filed before a notice of contest will be accepted by the Division.

Rule 5-5 requires that the final admission of liability include the M164 form, the physician’s narrative report and the rating sheets.

Rule 5-5 requires that an MMI report include a position on maintenance medical and that a final admission of liability state a position on maintenance medical benefits making specific reference to medical report, including the physician’s name and date of the report.

Rule 5-5 allows for medical only claims, that have been reported to the Division with no PPD, only require the attachment of a narrative report and worksheets if they were supplied by the physician.

Rule 5-5 now requires any safety rule reduction must include the specific facts supporting the reduction on a separate sheet of paper.

 

  • Rule 6

Rule 6-1 organized the requirements for a modified duty offer.  It still requires a copy of the written inquiry to the physician over the modified duty be provided to claimant at the same time as it is provided to the physician and that the claimant be provided 3 business days from the date of the receipt of the offer to return to work or respond.

Rule 6-6 governing terminating temporary disability benefits due to confinement, no longer requires a certified copy establishing confinement.

 

  • Rule 7

Rule 7-1 governing closure of a claim through abandonment requires that a new general admission be filed in the event that there is an objection to the final admission of liability file to close the claim for abandonment.

Rule 7-1 does not allow closure of a claim for failure to prosecute to be submitted by email.

Rule 7-1 governing closure by voluntary abandonment no longer requires notification to the claimant of the reopening provisions.

 

  • Rule 8

Rule 8-6 governing when there is a transfer of medical care at claimant’s request, states that the treating relationship with the prior physician terminates upon the initial visit with the new physician.

Rule 8-7 requires a written request for change of physician, and denial of that request, be made under a specific form, WC197.

 

  • Rule 9

 

Rule 9-2 allows the addition of any prehearing issue by any party without permission within 2 business days of setting.

Rule 9-3 allows motions for consideration by the PALJ to be submitted by email.

Rule 9-9 does not allow settlement document amounts to include consideration for issues outside of the jurisdiction of the DOWC.

Rule 9-9 allows that only pro se claimants may withdraw a waiver of advisement hearing within 3 days of signing the settlement documents.

 

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