Monday, July 29, 2013

Recent ALJ Decisions

At the local level Colorado posts perhaps all of the decisions by its administrative judges. The decisions for May 2013 are posted here. I went through these decisions and you can too. What I noticed is that many of them concern either compensability (coverage) or medical issues. Claimants often lost at these hearings. My view is that the claimant in such matters will often need a medical expert or two to help with his or her case. Insurers have ready access to known doctors who tend to support the insurer side of things. In a tough case my experience has been that Respondents will spend thousands to win. Winning means the claimant loses...either he loses it all or he loses on an issue that is quite important like his need for surgery. These experts are very good at justifying their position and at knocking down the medical opinions of others more supportive of the claimant. Did you get hurt at work? Nah it was preexisting. Or it could not have happened with the claimants work activities. Need surgery...well not really. The other sides medical experts are clever and often sway the judge. A claimant may not have the ability to hire his own experts to fight back. If left to the existing medical reports issued by the treating doctors who are often selected by the insurer a claimant may not have a chance. My point is that to have a fair fight a claimant may need expert help. The system does not pay for that or even have a fund to assist claimants. Over the years I've seen this problem increase. In any event reading the decisions makes you aware of the problem. It can also make you aware of the doctors involved in workers compensation cases from treating doctors to experts. For insight I'd encourage you to read the cases. Common sense may tell you that work activities caused or aggravated your condition but the insurer may have evidence that threatens your case. It can come in the form of a doctor or two who are hired to dispute your claim. So be ready because at a hearing you should expect significant opposition.

Friday, July 05, 2013

A Caution on Workers Compensation

Every so often I get a comment from someone who wonders if the Colorado material posted here applies to other states. It is important to loudly! While there are similarities between many states a workers compensation system is unique to each state. Colorado's system is a creature of state statutes and case law. It does not apply in any other state. Perhaps each state learns from the others or case law from one state may be an influence in a case in a different state. But the law in Colorado really depends on Colorado statutes and cases. The exception would be in federal cases involving federal employees. For those cases there is federal law. So if Colorado law applies to you then this blog and its references may be helpful in understanding things. But if you are in another state and its law applies then looking here may be of little benefit. Every state has its own laws in this field so for advice consult an attorney in your area. This blog makes for interesting reading but I must say it pertains only to Colorado. It also represents my views and my slant on the field. Legal advice should come from your attorney.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Firefighter Court of Appeals Case Zukowski

On July 3, 2013 the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a decision I call Zukowski. It is a case that concerns the statutory presumption that certain diseases arise from firefighting duties. The statute shifts the burden to Respondents to overcome the presumption or else the disease will be considered covered under workers compensation. The problem for firefighters is that they do not keep track of all their exposures to toxic chemicals or factors that can cause job related diseases. To improve that situation the statute was passed. However since then there have been efforts to defend against such a presumption. This blog has previously noted this (see the Littleton case entry in this blog for November 3, 2012). In the Zukowski case the firefighter had a melanoma which led to a claim. Respondents lost the hearing and the appeal to the next level but appealed further and the court reversed the prior rulings. In other words the firefighter lost the case barring further appeal. At the hearing the Respondents produced evidence through two physicians. Essentially they concluded that there were greater risk factors for the development of the melanoma from non work factors. The court ruled that the evidence was enough to overcome the statutory presumption and that the hearing judge interpreted the statute too heavily against the Respondents. It was error to require that the statutory presumption can only be overcome by proving the disease was caused by something else unrelated to the job. The court viewed such a standard as akin to saying strict liability applies against the Respondents. My concern is that the evidence was really indicating that non work factors were the greater risk factors then the job exposure to the development of the melanoma. I would say that this defense could well impair the statute's intent. Respondents can use this approach forcing the firefighter to again try to show his melanoma came from work and that could be difficult. My concern is that risk factors or the increased risk do not show what caused the disease and the statute sought to indicate it would presume the cause came from work activities and exposures. In any event the case is required reading in any firefighter case.