Legal Help

I get quite a few questions on this blog and on the phone which start with, “I already have an attorney . . ” Which begs the question – Why don’t people feel comfortable asking their attorneys questions? Are they scared? Intimidated? Is the attorney impatient or in a hurry?

Injured workers have to be good consumers. If you are paying for a service, you should expect the person providing that service to take the time to answer your questions.  Write your questions down. Make an appointment to meet with your attorney. Ask your questions, and listen to the answers.  It might not be the answer you want or were hoping for, but you are entitled to an answer.

Keep in mind, there are no dumb questions. If you have a workers compensation claim, you are in a strange new world of procedures, forms, acronyms, rules and guidelines.  Attorneys are here to help you figure out your next steps, and to insure you are getting the benefits and help this safety net is supposed to provide to you after a work injury.  We’re here because sometimes the system doesn’t work like it is intended to work, and we’ve seen it before and can help you through it.

You are ultimately in control of any decisions to take action on your claim.  To file an appeal or not; to litigate or not; to accept the return to work offer or not. You are in control, because the claim belongs to you and because the consequences are yours. You can only make good choices about what’s next if your questions are answered and you have the information you need to make informed decisions.

Ask the questions – and insist on answers.



The Legislature passed House Bill 2123, which has a number of provisions which will effect workers compensation in our State. I hope to discuss all of them eventually. But, most immediately, if you are receiving time loss or permanent total disability/pension benefits there will not be a cost-of-living adjustment this July. This is a one-time pass on COLA’s designed to save money.

If you have thoughts on any of the items contained in this Legislation, please forward them directly to our Governor – the prime architect of this year’s workers compensation ‘reform’.


Medical Provider Network

You may hear about a new Medical Provider Network, or MPN, being created by the Department of Labor & Industries. Legislation was recently signed by the Governor giving the Department the authority to create a network of medical providers to provide treatment to injured workers. This was a Legislative proposal which Business and Labor groups worked on together and ultimately both supported.

There are a lot of details to be ironed out, and the new Network will be rolled out slowly to limit unanticipated problems and preserve access to care. The most important thing for injured workers to know is they still have the choice to determine who will provide treatment for their industrial injury.

Workers’ choice of treating medical provider has been a cornerstone of our system, and nothing in the creation of a new MPN will alter that free choice. Currently, the worker may receive treatment from any provider who has an L&I provider number for billing purposes. In the new MPN the worker may choose to treat with any provider in the network.

The Network itself will be very broad, and will include virtually every medical provider who currently has a Provider number for billing purposes. The Network allows the Department to review the credentials of medical providers. Providers will be accepted into the Network if they are already credentialed by another health care system, for instance Blue Cross, Uniform Medical, or Group Health. There will be incentives for Providers who meet some additional standards in Occupational Medicine best practices,  encouraging quality care for injured workers.

One of the basic tenets of our workers compensation system is better medical care improves return to work and overall outcomes for injured workers. The Network will provide the Department with additional tools to meet this goal, while preserving access to care, choice of provider and improving medical treatment.

Reducing Long Term Disability

Someone asked, “what are the benefits of having a light duty program?”  It’s a really good question, and I suppose you would get different answers depending on who you ask. While I fully realize light duty programs are a cost saving mechanism for employers, I don’t believe these programs are inherently evil.  I won’t bore you with the research, but it seems well accepted the longer an injured worker is away from employment, the more devastating the financial impact on that worker and their family. Staying connected to your work place, and returning to some type of daily work activity as soon as possible, can be much better than long-term disability. Those who have a strong work ethic and a sense of self which is closely tied to employment, can avoid the feelings of loss and hopelessness which come with losing that employment or ability to work.

 However, like everything else in life, light duty programs run the gambit from good, to bad, to really ugly. There are those which are designed and intended to do all the right things; keep the worker connected to employment, offer meaningful work at fair pay, while affording dignity, respect and security.  And, there are those whose main goal seems to be to create such a hostile work environment that the worker will quit, or be set up for termination. The question is, how do we create incentives for the former and discourage the latter? How do we create a culture where employers and employees both see the benefit of working together to insure quick, meaningful, and permanent return to work after an industrial injury or occupational disease?

 I don’t mean that to be a rhetorical question – I really am looking for ideas. I think we have an opportunity in this State to move forward with productive changes which improve return to work and reduce long-term disability, like the Vocational Improvement Project which is currently in year 2 of a 5 year pilot. I’m not talking about redefining what is or is not an injury, or allowing workers to settle claims for a lump sum rather than holding employers accountable. These maneuvers may reduce costs, but they do not address return to work or reduce long-term disability. We don’t need to shift the problem out of sight, we need to solve it.

 From a workers perspective, what will  encourage a return to work? From an employer perspective, what reduces the risk of retaining a worker who has sustained an injury? How do we reshape the trajectory of  our work lives so that as we age work duties become less physically demanding, thereby reducing the prevalence of injury and occupational disease? Our ageing work force has value, with skills and knowledge that can and should be used. How do we harness that skill and knowledge when their bodies start to fail them?

 Light duty programs are one tool which can be used to reduce long-term disability. The trick is to insure it is used for the right reasons at the right time. The bigger trick is to put more tools in the toolbox.

So,  here is my question to those of you out there who read this blog.

What incentives could be created which would result in more workers returning to work after they are injured on the job?

I ask because I spent a number of hours this last Fall in meetings with Business and Labor representatives, and representatives from the Department of Labor & Industries and the Governor’s office. We were tasked with exploring ways to reduce long term disability in the workers compensation system. By the way, a nearly impossible task given the short time frame to work before the start of the Legislative session. But, we did have some interesting and productive conversations about what contributes to long-term disability. As you might imagine, the factors vary from claim to claim, and there is not one single contributing factor which we could eliminate, thereby reducing overall long term disability.

We did just start to explore the idea of incentives to improve return to work. We didn’t get anywhere. The Legislative session was looming; the room was getting tense; and battle lines were being drawn. But, we were close to the beginnings of a conversation about ideas. I know, that sounds three steps removed from anything productive. However, there were thoughtful people in the room. Without the pressures of a cantankerous legislative session breathing down everyone’s neck, I think we could actually have those productive discussions. I hope we do, time will tell, I suppose.

In the meantime, I’m interested in anything you might have to say on the subject.  Any thoughts??