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

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Beatriz Trejo leads local group advocating for injured workers

May 11, 2016 | 8:15 am


The California Applicants’ Attorneys Association is “the most powerful, and most knowledgeable legal voice for the injured workers of California,” serving the state’s injured workers since 1966, according to the organization’s website.

And in Kern County, Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation* attorney Beatriz Trejo is leading the local Bakersfield chapter as California Applicants’ Attorneys Association president. She also serves on Women’s Caucus, Latino Caucus, and Emerging Leaders Committees, which makes a statewide impact through legal education and legislative advocacy.

“As the local president, I focus my efforts on educating and uniting the workers’ compensation community towards efficient and positive resolution of cases for the benefit of the injured employee,” said lawyer Beatriz Trejo.

Trejo has practiced in front of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board since 2012. As a former defense attorney, Trejo is familiar with the inner workings of insurance companies, insurance carriers, and self-insured employers — all which benefit her clients now in fighting their cases.

Even more, Trejo is fluent in Spanish and can community with ease with Kern County’s large Latino population. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State Bakersfield and her master’s degree in political science from Cal State Northridge. She earned her law degree from the University of Akron School of Law in Ohio.

The Bakersfield chapter of CAAA, led by Trejo, has held several seminars and workshops to benefit attorneys who represent injured workers including, “Dahl and Vocational Evaluations: How to get the most out of your vocational evaluations” at Wool Growers Restaurant in Bakersfield. Those sessions are approved for Minimum Continuing Legal Education credit in the workers’ compensation legal specialization. (That workshop was made possible by a sponsorship from Gemini Legal)

CAAA has been built with the support of its members who recognized the necessity of an active voice for injured workers. The organization is instrumental in providing California injured workers the opportunity for fair workers’ compensation benefits and re-entry into the community as a productive citizen.

“The support of CAAA’s members help to provide the optimum ability for CAAA to continue its distinguished tradition,” according to the group. 

Recently, Beatriz Trejo took part in the filming of a video intended to communicate the commitment of Chain | Cohn | Stiles to serve injured workers in Kern County, including those working in agriculture and in the fields of Kern County. You can watch the videos (in English and Spanish) here:

For more on Trejo, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation services, visit the law firm’s specialized site, bakersfieldwclawyers.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 values of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.