Even in cases of cancer, workers receive little help from state workers’ compensation system in road to recovery

March 28, 2018 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article appeared as a Community Voices article in the Opinion section of The Bakersfield Californian on March 26, 2018. To read the article in print format or online, scroll down to the “Media Coverage” section. 

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Even in cases of cancer, workers receive little help from state system in road to recovery

By Beatriz A Trejo

When we think of work injuries and workers’ compensation we typically think of slip-and-falls, car accidents, or perhaps back pain associated with lifting heavy objects.

What we often ignore are “progressive insidious diseases,” with cancer being one of the most aggressive and feared of these diseases. Recently, the San Francisco Fire Department reported a spike in their breast cancer rates, reporting that 15 percent of the department’s female firefighters between the ages of 40 and 50 had been diagnosed with cancer. That number is six times that of the national average. And, according to the American Cancer Society, occupational exposure to carcinogens accounts for 4 percent of all cancers in the United States.

So what is being done to help the hard working people in California? Sadly, very little.

For some professions, the California Labor Code finds cancer to be presumptively caused by work factors – these professions include firefighters and law enforcement officers. When cancer is found to have an industrial link, the disease is treated within the workers’ compensation system. But even when the cancer is found to be industrial, the injured worker is only entitled to a maximum of two years of wage replacement, which is only paid at two-thirds of their average weekly wages. At the end of the two years, an injured worker can expect payment of “permanent disability” at a maximum of $290 per week, which ends after a specified period of time.

Sadly, the worse aspect of treating cancer in the workers’ compensation system is the delay in medical treatment, which is subject to “utilization review.” In in its most basic form, utilization review allows insurance carriers to deny or delay medical treatment by having a “medical professional” review requests for treatment, and make a decision on the necessity of the request without ever seeing the patient or reviewing an entire medical file. At that point, the injured worker’s only option is to appeal the denial of treatment to an “independent medical review,” which is another blind review by another unknown “medical professional.”

By now, you should be asking yourself, “How is this legal?” And if you are not, you probably should. A work injury can happen to anyone – a day laborer, an office worker, a public servant – and it could be anything from a muscle strain to terminal cancer. In any case, when the injury is work related, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy of the injured worker, often trapping people in endless delays and denials of medical treatment and very little payout at the end.

Think about this – and our own hard working, injured firefighters and police officers in Bakersfield and Kern County – next time a Senate Bill or a proposition relating to workers’ compensation is on the ballot.

Beatriz Trejo is an associate attorney at the Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. She was named “Young Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar, and is a volunteer for Bakersfield’s Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center Foundation for Community Wellness.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Community Voices: Bad workers’ compensation laws in California are costing taxpayers

October 26, 2016 | 9:02 am


Editor’s Note: The following article appeared as a Community Voices article in the Oct. 14, 2016, Opinion section of The Bakersfield  Californian. To read the article in print format, click here. To see the article online, click here

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Taxpayers: Bad workers’ comp laws in California are costing you

By James A. Yoro

As a business owner, I have a personal investment in the health and welfare of my employees. Not only do I want a safe working environment but if, God forbid, they get injured, I want them to be taken care of so that they can return to work as soon as they recover.  That is what I expect for the insurance premium dollars I have spent.

A workers’ compensation system that provides adequate support to injured workers is a key component to the social safety net that we as a society have all agreed is necessary. It provides a fair and balanced approach to the costs of doing business and the unfortunate inevitability of on-the-job injuries.

Continuing erosion of these safety net benefits result in harmful and widespread economic consequences to the injured worker. What often goes unnoticed and unmentioned is the fact that we all will ultimately bear the brunt of this denial of benefits as a result of the cost shifting that occurs.

In fact, it’s costing you, my fellow taxpayers, right now.

California’s private workers’ compensation insurance carriers so effectively lobbied California’s legislators that they have eroded the system to the extent that the costs for the long-term care and disability for injured workers in the state often falls on taxpayers through the Medicare, Medi-Cal and Social Security system. This is an undue burden to the taxpayers and a shirking of the insurance company’s responsibilities. California’s workers’ compensation insurers continue to collect premiums from California’s employers all to increase their profits while California’s injured workers ultimately have to rely on taxpayer-funded systems.

A recent U.S. Department of Labor report (“Does the workers’ compensation system fulfill its obligations to injured workers?” – Oct. 5, 2016) outlines the troubling condition faced by injured workers because state-sponsored workers’ compensation programs throughout the nation are failing to provide even rudimentary benefits.

“Other social benefit systems … have expanded our social safety net, while the workers’ compensation safety net has been shrinking. There is growing evidence that costs of workplace-related disability are being transferred to other benefit programs, placing additional strains on these programs at a time when they are already under considerable stress.”

For example, here in California, benefits paid to injured workers to replace lost wages during the time off needed to recover from an injury have been capped at 104 weeks. The consequence of this is that those most seriously injured who do not recover in that amount of time face severe financial pressures. With no other similar benefit available, the burden to survive falls on the disabled worker, and ultimately the taxpayers.

The labor department report calls for an increase in the federal role of oversight including the appointment of a new national commission and establishment of minimum standards.

Business owners and employers should all be contacting their legislative representatives and demanding an end to this continuing degradation of rights and benefits to our hard-working labor force.

I am not a proponent of federal intervention into our states workers’ compensation system; however, this report should serve as a wake-up call to all of us. If we do not take care of our injured workers, then the threat of big government casting its shadow across our Golden State looms large in our foreseeable future.

James A. Yoro is a certified workers’ compensation attorney, a senior partner at the Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and has nearly 40 years of experience in the practice.

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If you or someone you know is hurt on the job, contact our workers’ compensation attorneys by calling (661) 323-4000 or chainlaw.com.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

‘Community Voices’ article calls for end of non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases

August 10, 2016 | 9:37 am


The partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims. The article was printed Sunday, Aug. 7, in The Bakersfield Californian, which you can read in the newspaper version here as well, or read below.

For media coverage on relevant and recent sexual assault cases represented by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, scroll to the bottom of the page.

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County’s non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases need to end

By the Partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

One of the fundamental tenets of democracy is the concept of transparency in government. Unfortunately, for years the County of Kern has attempted to cover up instances of sexual assault and misconduct by County law enforcement personnel.

Government transparency promotes accountability and transforms citizens into public watchdogs. For there to be effective public oversight of government, our citizens must be able to freely access information about the decisions their government makes. This includes the right to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, especially when that money is being used to compensate victims of sexual assault.

Kern County’s pattern and practice of insisting on confidential settlements with victims of sexual assault flies in the face of transparency in government. If a County law enforcement official sexually assaults an innocent victim, then we as taxpayers have an absolute right to know about it. We have a right to know how it happened, why it happened, and what, if anything, is being done to ensure that it never happens again. Confidentiality does nothing to prevent sexual assault from occurring again; it is adverse to public policy and can allow the wrongful conduct to continue. But when the public is made aware of these wrongful acts, and the settlements that follow, it has the effect of exposing sexual predators and lax departmental policies, with the hope that curbing future wrongful conduct will become an obvious priority for the County.

The only part of a settlement in sexual assault cases that should remain confidential is the identity of the victim. Protecting their identities encourages victims to come forward without fear of retaliation or humiliation.  Making the settlement terms publicly known while keeping the identity of victims confidential strikes the right balance between open government and protecting the dignity of victims.

The County’s well-documented practice of paying “hush money” to victims, however, is far from dignified. Even though County officials in news stories have described this practice as “nothing unusual,” and defended it as a “common practice throughout the United States,” it is far from common and it is neither morally nor ethically sound. The payment program is an acceptable practice in the context of resolving small claims for property damage, but is far from appropriate in the context of fairly compensating victims of sexual assault. To even suggest that the two are somehow equivalent is dehumanizing and demeaning to victims of sexual assault.

Approaching unrepresented victims of sexual misconduct with small stacks of cash at their homes shortly after they have been sexually assaulted is wrong, particularly where the perpetrator and fixer both hail from the same public entity. Perhaps more importantly, this practice runs afoul of our commitment to transparency and accountability, because it has the effect of sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug, without the public ever knowing about it.

One county official insisted to local media that confidential settlements have “nothing to do with transparency,” and criticized our law firm for being guardians of the public trust. We don’t take that as a criticism – we embrace it as our commitment to our community.

It’s time for the County to put an end to this abhorrent practice.

— Chain | Cohn | Stiles is a Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm. The partners include David Cohn, James Yoro, Matthew Clark and Neil Gehlawat.

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RELATED MEDIA COVERAGE

 

OTHER CHAIN | COHN | STILES SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES