Thursday, December 08, 2011
Issues to Think About for 2012
Around this time of the year I look back at the year and ahead too. Someone asked me about national issues in the field of workers comp but really not much has changed over the last year in Colorado. By that I do not mean that there were no changes or interesting developments but that it was a year of slow or minimal changes in the law. Still there were some developments. For the statutory developments just click here for an overview. For what is new at the Division of Workers Compensation you can click here. For caselaw we cover this in our blog. But as for the national or evolving issues in this field I guess the overriding issue is the economy. Still that is not unique to workers comp. What I have noticed over the years is there are increasingly technical or more precisely medical issues in workers comp. They usually trigger a battle of experts. What you then see are many cases that have become medical battlegrounds. The battling experts are the doctors. In such battles the advantage is often with the insurer. First, the treating doctor is usually selected by the insurer or the employer. Not exactly a good deal for the employee especially when there is a controversy. Next they cultivate those doctors who issue reports and testify to the benefit of the insurer position. It's expensive for a claimant to use his or her own doctors. Testimony expenses are billed at $450 an hour in most cases and includes commuting and wait time too. It is easy to spend over $2000 for one such expert. Advantage? Insurer (I have had insurance defense attorneys tell me they can pay $5000 or even $10000 for their experts). This can cripple a claimant's case. It strikes me that this is impairing a fair fight or what I would call access to the system. In civil matters there is a growing awareness of a need to simplify proceedings because when matters are complex or highly technical it works to the advantage of those with the money. In Colorado there is a interesting new seminar on this as relates to civil proceedings other then workers comp but it strikes me that improving access in workers comp is extremely important. By permitting many experts we skyrocket the costs of a hearing. It may be wise to limit this. Perhaps for a fair fight we should let the claimant have his expert as a covered benefit but that is not the current law. In my opinion any effort that speeds the process, makes it a fair fight and reduces something that is complicated to what the computer crowd would call user friendly is to be lauded. The workers compensation system was not intended to be unfriendly to injured workers. It was intended to be an efficient way to deal with work injuries and hopefully protect the worker while he recovers from his injury. In my view that is not happening and perhaps we need address this so we get back to the original purpose of the workers comp laws...to assist injured workers even if benefits are limited by statute. Otherwise the problem is shifted to all of us.