The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update July 2019

Lee and Brown LLC Partners and Certifications

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update
on recent developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.
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Congratulations are in Order!

 

Lee & Brown has recognized the daily commitment, dedication and professionalism of three of its own.  We are very happy to make the following announcements:

L&B welcomes M. Frances McCracken to the Firm as Partner.  Ms. McCracken has been with L&B for 4 years after the dissolution of her previous Firm.  Her 30 years of experience in insurance defense is a great asset to our Firm, as is her commitment to her profession and her clients.  Ms. McCracken’s practice over the years has involved all aspects of the litigation process, including success in trials and appeals, arbitration, mediation and case settlement.  She has defended cases in the Colorado State District Courts, Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, as well as U.S. District Court.  Her expertise as a legal writer and litigator raises the bar for not only our Firm, but in the insurance defense and legal community as a whole.  Please join us in congratulations to Fran, for a well-deserved lifetime achievement.

 

L&B announces the promotion of Associate Jessica Melson to Of Counsel.  Ms. Melson joined L&B in February 2012 with previous insurance defense experience. Since that time, she has grown tremendously as an attorney in her dedication and her commitment to provide the best legal defense for her clients while developing into a strong example as a professional to the Firm’s Jr. Associates and in the legal community.  Ms. Melson regularly shares her knowledge of insurance defense by providing educational counseling to clients. She has volunteered pro bono legal services for the Colorado Lawyers Committee and Metro Volunteer Lawyers. The Firm congratulates you, Jessica, on your achievements thus far in the legal profession.

 

L&B promotes Associate Angela M. Lavery to Of Counsel.  Ms. Lavery came to L&B in 2011 as a Paralegal.  It soon became apparent that Ms. Lavery, who earned her law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 1995, was capable of much more.  Since receiving her license from the State of Colorado in 2012, Ms. Lavery has been diligently working to provide excellent legal defense to her clients, to whom she also regularly counsels on the ever-changing and evolving analysis of legal issues and the law.  Ms. Lavery has blossomed into a patient and knowledgeable mentor for the Jr. Associates and Law Clerks in the Firm, as well as in the legal community.  Outside of the Firm, she still makes time to contribute pro bono as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate for Children with Denver CASA.  Congratulations, Angela, on a job well done.  The Firm is proud to have you join us as Of Counsel.

You have all made L&B a better place by your contributions and your dedication and we look forward to sharing in your future accomplishments.

 


Noteworthy Cases

In Tremain v. Caterpillar, Inc. and Liberty Mutual Insurance, W.C. No. 5-092-748, Of Counsel Sheila Toborg and Of Counsel William Sterck successfully defended against Claimant’s claim of compensability for an injury he believed to be in the course and scope of his employment. Claimant argued that he sustained a compensable injury and that he was entitled to medical care and disability benefits. During hearing, Ms. Toborg argued that, per Respondents’ expert report, Claimant’s exhibited symptoms were chronic and not work-related. Mr. Sterck argued in the Respondents’ Position Statement that Claimant had no claim in fact, or in law, for the relief he was seeking. Because of the combined efforts of Ms. Toborg and Mr. Sterck, the ALJ found that Claimant failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he had a compensable claim. The claim was dismissed.

 

In Thompson v. The Home Depot and Liberty Mutual Insurance, W.C. No. 4-886-616, Of Counsel Sheila Toborg and Associate Jessie M. Tasselmyer successfully defended against Claimant’s attempt to overcome the Division Independent Medical Examination for injuries sustained as a result of a May 2012 admitted work injury.  ICAO affirmed the ALJ’s ruling and found that they had no basis to overturn the prior ruling. The ALJ appropriately credited the opinion of Respondents’ expert and that there was no perceivable error of law.

 


 

In May of this year the Colorado Court of Appeals rendered an opinion that focused on the admissibility of past medical expenses when the claimant/plaintiff is injured on the job and sues the third-party tortfeasor. The Court considered whether “billed” medical expenses versus what was actually “paid” were to be considered by the court and jury in awarding damages to a claimant/plaintiff. Before trial, the defendant had extinguished the insurer’s subrogation interest in the amounts paid by paying off the insurer’s claim for those damages.  Continue reading the article

 


Cases You Should Know

You Get a Fine, I Get a Fine, Everybody Gets a Fine: In Colorado Department of Labor and Employment v. Dami Hospitality, 2019CO47M (June 3, 2019)(awaiting publication), the DOWC fined Dami $841,200 for failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance for 1,698 days. Dami appealed. ICAO affirmed; however, the Supreme Court reversed the decision deciding the fine violated the Excessive Fines Clause of the 8th Amendment because the DOWC failed to consider Dami’s ability to pay the fine. The Colorado Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals applied the incorrect test to determine whether the fine was excessive. It held that the correct test to determine whether a fine is excessive is whether the amount of the fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. The Court ruled, “The court of appeals’ ruling is thus reversed and the case is remanded to that court for return to the Division of Workers’ Compensation to determine whether the per diem fines at issue are proportional to the harm or risk of harm caused by each day of the employer’s failure to comply with the statutory requirement to carry workers’ compensation insurance.”

Moral of the Story: It is imperative to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Failure to do so can result in substantial fines.

 

Is it a Cure? In Rajabi v. ICAO; Arvada Fire Protection District…, 2018CA1599 (May 16, 2019)(unpublished), Claimant sustained an admitted injury to the right hand in April 2017 and was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. Claimant requested help with housekeeping and yard work. The ATP recommended in-home housekeeping and yard services. Nonetheless, the ATP did not assign Claimant restrictions pertaining to the right hand.

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed ICAO’s Order finding that Claimant’s request for in-home housekeeping and yard services was not reasonable, necessary, and related to the claim. Specifically, the request for in-home housekeeping and yard services was not “medical in nature or incidental to obtaining such medical or nursing treatment.”  The Court opined that Claimant’s request for in-home housekeeping and yard work did not relieve and or cure Claimant’s condition. As such, the request was not medically reasonable or necessary.  The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the credibility determinations and legal standards utilized by the ALJ.

Moral of the Story:  Treatment recommended by an ATP must cure and/or relieve a claimant of his/her symptoms resulting from a work-related injury.

 

Make it Count. In Humphrey v. FedEx Freight Inc., W.C. No. 4-911-782, the Claimant sought review of an Order denying his Motion to Strike the Respondents’ Final Admission of Liability (FAL).  Respondents allegedly failed to attach the proper MMI medical report when filing the FAL. As such, the claim was never administratively closed and the Claimant was not required to pursue a reopening of his claim.  ICAO set aside the ALJ’s Order and remanded the case to the ALJ for further findings.  ICAO ruled that FALs are a jurisdictional requirement “and their inadequacy may be raised at any time…” The ALJ was instructed to address his findings of fact and conclusions of law as to why Claimant’s Motion was denied.

Moral of the Story: A FAL must be filed with the proper medical report to administratively close the claim.

 

Better to Be Assertive: In the Matter of the Claim of Quincy Bryant v. Transit Mix Concrete and Traveler’s Indemnity Company, W.C. no. 5-058-044-001 (ICAO June 5, 2019), ICAO affirmed in part, and remanded in part, an ALJ’s Order that Respondents overcame the DIME. First, the Panel held that the ALJ erred in reversing the DIME physician with respect to the Table 53 diagnosis. The ALJ incorrectly held that the law requires objective rigidity in order to assign a Table 53 diagnosis when rating the cervical spine. The law has no such requirement: the requisite rigidity may arise from the Claimant’s subjective complaints or objective evidence. Secondly, the Panel held that the ALJ properly found that Respondents did not waive their ability to assert a safety violation. Although Respondents did not assert a safety rule violation in the FAL, they did timely assert it in their Application for Hearing challenging the findings of the DIME. Ultimately, the Panel reversed the ALJ’s findings with respect to the Table 53 diagnosis and remanded for further findings on whether there was evidence, subjective or objective, of rigidity.  The Panel affirmed the ALJ’s finding that Respondents did not waive the ability to assert a safety rule violation.

Moral of the Story: A Table 53 diagnosis requires objective evidence with respect to pathology, but not with respect to rigidity. Respondents must make sure to assert all implicated affirmative defenses on their pleadings in order to prevent waiver.

 

Smacking Some Sense into Loofbourrow: In this next case, Respondents filed a medical-only FAL. Seventy five days later, Claimant objected to the FAL and filed a Notice and Proposal to Select a DIME. Respondents moved to strike Claimant’s request for a DIME as untimely because it was filed outside of the 30-day time requirement. The ALJ agreed and struck Claimant’s request for DIME. Claimant appealed and argued, according to Loofbourrow, 320 P.3d 327 (Colo. 2014), a medical-only FAL does not close a claim, has no statutory significance, and does not trigger the statutory time requirements to request a DIME. The Panel disagreed. It distinguished Loofbourrow because it involved a claim where no FAL was filed. The Panel affirmed the ALJ and held that a medical-only FAL has the same legal effectiveness as any other FAL. Martinez v. Energy Savings Crew, LLC, W.C. No. 5-055-251 (May 31, 2019).

Moral of the Story: Filing a FAL triggers the statutory time requirements to request a DIME. Without a FAL, a claim may remain open indefinitely.

 

No Alter Ego Here: In McRobbie v. Estate of Mary E. Wales, W.C. No. 5-052-934 (May 24, 2019), Claimant worked as a caregiver to Mary Wales. She was seating Ms. Wales on a shower bench when she felt shooting pain going through her left arm into her fingers. Claimant was later diagnosed with a cervical disc herniation. Ms. Wales subsequently passed away. The ALJ found that Mary Wales and Carolyn Cargile (Mrs. Wale’s daughter who held Power of Attorney) were joint employers and that each were personally liable for Claimant’s injury. The ALJ found that Ms. Cargile was personally liable as Claimant’s employer based on the theory of an alter ego. The ICAO reversed, finding that when an individual is acting through a power of attorney as an agent and identifies as such, she cannot be named as an employer for a contract of employment or be personally liable. The ICAO further explained that the theory of an alter ego does not apply when an agent discloses that she is acting on behalf of an employer through a power of attorney. The ALJ’s Order was corrected to designate the sole employer to be the Mary E. Wales Revocable Trust.

Moral of the story: An individual acting as an agent to an identified principal cannot be held personally liable for a workers’ compensation claim.

 

Explanation is Key: In Gil De Prieto v. Spirit Hospitality II LLC, W.C. No. 5-019-619 (May 24, 2019), Claimant sustained a left shoulder injury while working as a housekeeper. As a procedural matter, Respondents were permitted to take a post-hearing deposition of a physician. Claimant then filed an Opposed Motion to Submit Rebuttal Evidence via a Deposition of another physician in order to rebut Respondents’ post-hearing deposition. The ALJ summarily denied Claimant’s Motion. The ICAO found that the denial of Claimant’s Motion was an abuse of discretion because the ALJ did not provide any basis or reasoning behind his Order. The ALJ’s Order was set aside and remanded for further findings.

Moral of the story: An ALJ’s findings of fact and conclusions of law are an abuse of discretion if they are not supported by the evidence or fail to provide an explanation behind the order.

 

Read Between the Lines: In Lopez v. Holsinger Drywall Inc., W.C. No. 5-066-416 (May 16, 2019), Claimant sustained several injuries, including fractures of his pelvis and vertebrae in his back, after falling 12 feet to the ground while working on an apartment construction project. Claimant’s claim for compensation was denied by Respondents on the basis that he was an independent contractor as defined by C.R.S. § 8-40-202(2)(b). At hearing, the ALJ found that Claimant was an independent contractor, not Respondents’ employee. ICAO reversed the ALJ’s Order, finding that the ALJ misapplied the legal standard when he placed undue reliance on two documents signed by Claimant wherein he declared himself an independent contractor. The Panel explained that “the nature of the working relationship” must be examined as a whole rather than relying exclusively on the requirements of the controlling statute. The Panel analyzed Claimant’s actual working relationship with the parties and found that the undisputed record showed that he was not engaged in operating an independent business and, therefore, was not an independent contractor. The ALJ’s Order was reversed and the claim was ordered to be compensable.

Moral of the story: Simply meeting the statutory requirements to establish an independent contractor status does not necessarily mean an individual is an independent contractor. Other circumstances surrounding a claimant’s employment relationship should also be considered when determining his/her employment status.

“Wind” Will This Ever End?

As we recently celebrated the 4th of July with family and friends, we must not lose sight of the Founding Fathers and formation of the Constitution. Interestingly, John Hancock was the only one to sign on July 4, 1776, while the others signed at a later date. We are fortunate that the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution to incorporate a judicial system that allows people the opportunity to be heard as that luxury does not exist in many other places in the world. Often, the higher courts will have to decide issues from the lower courts to interpret a statute, applicability of the law, admissibility of evidence, etc. The workers’ compensation laws are subject to the same scrutiny as any other law or statute.

 

The Workers’ Compensation Act and system was created to provide a quick and efficient resolution to injured workers and the ability through the administrative courts to avoid the long delays that could ensue in the trial courts. Ironically, workers’ compensation claims can be tied up in litigation much longer than the trial courts which was not the intent of the legislature. While the hope and intent are clear, due to the many nuances and different interpretation of the workers’ compensation laws, there will continue to be disputes that arise.

 

While different in each state, workers’ compensation medical benefits are subject to a fee schedule set by the legislature. By statute, a medical provider could not collect payment for medical expenses beyond those paid by the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation insurer. The intent (hopefully) is to have a level playing field and no disputes over what fee is to be charged to avoid any delay to the injured worker for medical care.

 

Plain and simple, the cost for a medical benefit under a workers’ compensation claim is subject to a set fee by the legislature regardless of what the provider may charge outside of the system for the same service. This also, for policy reasons, provides some relief to the carriers given the volume of workers’ compensation claims. They will not be burdened with extreme medical costs providing medical benefits to claimants as medical providers are limited to the amounts under the fee schedule.

 

With that said, in May of this year the Colorado Court of Appeals rendered an opinion that focused on the admissibility of past medical expenses when the claimant/plaintiff is injured on the job and sues the third-party tortfeasor. The Court considered whether “billed” medical expenses versus what was actually “paid” were to be considered by the court and jury in awarding damages to a claimant/plaintiff. Before trial, the defendant had extinguished the insurer’s subrogation interest in the amounts paid by paying off the insurer’s claim for those damages.

 

The case was brought before the Court based on claimant/plaintiff’s appeal that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of the amounts “billed” by his medical providers and only admitted the amounts “paid” by the carrier for his medical care and treatment. The Court was to determine whether billed versus paid medical benefits were permitted in a third-party lawsuit.

The Court held:

  • The collateral source rule barred admissibility of the medical expenses paid by the workers’ compensation carrier.
  • The plaintiff could present evidence at trial of the higher i.e. “billed” medical expenses by the providers.

 

Briefly, claimant worked for United Airlines (“United”) and was struck by an employee of Delta Airlines (“Delta”) at Denver International Airport – both were driving similar luggage tug vehicles. Claimant’s injuries were in the course and scope of employment, therefore, admitted and his indemnity and medical benefits were paid by his employer pursuant to statute.

 

Claimant’s employer sought reimbursement and sued Delta and its at-fault driver. Claimant sued the same defendants to recover for his personal injuries related to his work injury. United’s claim against Delta was settled for $328,799.16 and the case was dismissed with prejudice leaving only claimant and Delta as parties. Delta admitted liability but disputed claimant’s claimed damages so the case went to trial. At the first trial, claimant was awarded $1.5 million but a new trial was granted due to misconduct by claimant’s attorney.

 

At the second trial (which interestingly was a bench trial), plaintiff was not allowed to provide evidence of the higher “billed” amounts from the providers for medical expenses but only the amounts actually “paid” by the employer. The plaintiff was awarded $259,176 in damages of which $194,426 was for economic damages. The court subsequently entered an order to set-off claimant’s economic damages by the amount defendant had paid to settle the workers’ compensation claim. Plaintiff argued this was not fair since his award for economic damages was reduced to zero.

 

The injured worker appealed. In its decision, the Court ruled that the collateral source rule applied to workers’ compensation benefits. The collateral source rule, or collateral source doctrine, is an American case law evidentiary rule that prohibits the admission of evidence that the plaintiff or victim has received compensation from some source other than the damages sought against the defendant. In Colorado, the first component requires a trial court to set off tort verdicts by the amount of certain collateral source payments received by the plaintiff unless the payments were made because of a contract entered into and paid for on the plaintiff’s behalf. § 13-21-111.6, C.R.S. 2018. The second component bars evidence of a plaintiff’s receipt or entitlement to benefits received from a collateral source, most often an insurance company, “because such evidence could lead the fact-finder to improperly reduce the plaintiff’s damages award on the grounds that the plaintiff already recovered his loss from the collateral source. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Crossgrove, 276 P.3d 562 (Colo. 2012).

 

The Court noted that “even though claimant did not personally pay premiums toward his workers’ compensation insurance, he gave consideration for the same in the form of his employment services.” Van Waters & Rogers, Inc. v. Keelan, 840 P.2d 1070, 1074 (Colo. 1992). The same holds true to the defendant, who did not contribute in any way to the premiums paid to him and, therefore, the benefits paid were wholly collateral to the defendant. Therefore, the collateral source rule applies, and the defendant may be responsible for plaintiff’s damages regardless of what was paid by the workers’ compensation carrier. “The Court rationalized this will prevent a wrongdoer from reaping the benefits of a contract to which he is not a party.” The National Law Review, Colorado Court of Appeals Permits Evidence of Billed Workers’ Compensation Benefits at Trial.

 

In further reasoning of its decision, the Court acknowledged the workers’ compensation statute provides that amounts billed in excess of the statutory fee schedule are “unlawful, void, and unforceable.” This statutory language effectively prevents the plaintiff, as a matter of law, from having any legal obligation to pay such billed amounts. The Court cited a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court that stated, “the fact a bill is uncollectable does not render it entirely irrelevant to the reasonable value of the medical services provided.” Volunteers of America v. Gardenswartz, 242 P.3d 1080 (Colo. 2010).

 

There was a dissenting opinion issued by the Court which identifies the effect this ruling will have for claims in the future. “To allow injured workers to pursue expenses against the defendant in excess of what workers’ compensation already paid for his/her injuries contravenes the intent and purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In part, this now affords the injured worker a windfall which the Act was not designed to do.” The dissenting opinion also makes note that the court is in the position of enforcing unenforceable contracts since the billed amounts are void and unenforceable based on the fee schedule specific to workers’ compensation claims.

 

The opinion of the Court has certainly created a stir as it now essentially creates a windfall in favor of the injured worker and settlement with workers’ compensation carriers before trial essentially meaningless.

 

We will wait to see if the Court’s decision is brought before the Colorado Supreme Court for further review and determination of this now complicated, and to be highly debated, topic.

The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update June 2019

Lee and Brown LLC Partners and Certifications

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update
on recent developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.
Lee and Brown Denver AttorneysFollow us on LinkedIn

 


In the News
The Colorado Self-Insured Association (CSIA) held their annual membership luncheon on June 18, 2019. Lee and Brown, LLC, a professional member of CSIA, was proud to be a sponsor of this year’s luncheon. Attending on behalf of Lee and Brown, LLC were Of Counsel Bradley Hansen, Esq. and Associate Angela Lavery, Esq.   CSIA is an association of Colorado employers approved by the State of Colorado to insure their workers’ compensation benefits internally. Members include representatives of self-insured entities in both the public and private sectors, as well as other professionals involved in the workers’ compensation system. CSIA’s mission is to educate members, provide networking opportunities, and promote legislative action that maintains a cost-benefit balance. CSIA also promotes the goal of promoting timely and effective programs to return injured employees to work.

 


 

Noteworthy Cases

In Lasater v. Walmart Stores, Inc., W.C. No. 5-078-097, Member John M. Abraham successfully defended against Claimant’s entitlement to maintenance medical care. Claimant argued that she required ongoing treatment, after being placed at MMI, for her low back injury due to continued complaints of pain and physical restrictions.  Claimant had a pre-existing history of low back pain prior to the industrial injury. Respondents’ expert credibly testified that the Claimant’s medical records documented a pre-existing history of low back pain that was supported by objective medical evidence. Respondents’ expert further testified that her condition remained unchanged and any ongoing complaints were the result of her pre-existing low back condition.  The ALJ found that the Claimant’s need for ongoing maintenance medical care was the result of her pre-existing condition and not the industrial injury. As such, the ALJ denied and dismissed Claimant’s claim for maintenance medical care.

 

Fran McCrackenIn Misenhimer v. Walmart Associates, W.C. nos. 5-038-861 & 5-089-956, Of Counsel M. Frances McCracken successfully defended against Claimant’s consolidated claims for additional medical benefits for her admitted right hip injury and compensability for her denied left hip injury. In 2017, Claimant injured her right hip falling from a six-foot ladder. Respondents admitted liability for this injury. In 2018, Claimant alleged she sustained injury to her left hip while lifting bags of cat and dog food. Respondents’ expert credibly and persuasively testified that right hip surgery would not lessen Claimant’s pain or improve her function and that a pre-existing condition caused Claimant’s left hip symptoms. The ALJ found that Claimant failed to prove she was entitled to ongoing medical benefits for her right hip and compensability for her left hip injury. Thus, the ALJ denied and dismissed Claimant’s request for prior authorization for right hip surgery and claim for the left hip injury.

 

Brad HansenIn Benavidez, Sr. v. Xtreme Drilling Coil Service,, W.C. No. 4-952-617, Of Counsel Bradley Hansen successfully defended against Claimant’s attempt to overcome the DIME opinion regarding MMI and entitlement to additional TTD benefits. Claimant sustained a back injury while working on an oil rig for the Employer. Claimant had a previous work injury to his back but claimed all of his current complaints and symptoms were due to the injury on the oil rig. The ALJ found that Claimant’s testimony, and the testimony of his expert, did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that the DIME should be overcome.

In Bryan v. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, W.C. No. 5-029-664, Of Counsel Bradley J. Hansen and Associate Kristi Robarge Krisit Robargesuccessfully defended a full contest claim. Claimant alleged that she sustained an injury to her low back and neck when she was bumped by a housekeeping cart.  Claimant had a prior low back injury and was actively receiving treatment at the time of the new alleged injury. Claimant’s ATP and Respondents’ expert all opined that Claimant’s current symptoms were related to the prior injury and chronic pain syndrome.  The ALJ found that the accident did not create a disability or need for medical treatment and any ongoing need for treatment was related to Claimant’s chronic pain and prior injury.  Claimant’s claim was denied and dismissed.

 

Jessica MelsonIn Comfort v. Community Education Centers, W.C. No. 5-037-333, Associate Jessica Melson successfully defended Claimant’s Application for Hearing to Overcome the DIME. In the DIME, Claimant was found to have sustained 6% permanent impairment to her jaw from a board falling on her. Claimant sought to overcome the DIME alleging she was not at MMI because she required additional treatment for her jaw. She also alleged the DIME erred because she sustained additional impairment to her cervical spine and shoulder. Ms. Melson presented persuasive evidence of the extensive medical treatment and evaluations Claimant had that found she had no additional injury. Dr. Striplin credibly testified the DIME was correctly performed and there were no errors. The ALJ found Claimant failed to overcome the DIME.


 

Fine, Fine Everywhere a Fine – Excessive Fines by the DOWC

Dami Hospitality, LLC., is the owner of a hotel in Denver that employs between 4 and 10 people at any given time.  Dami let its workers’ compensation policy lapse more than once. DOWC discovered the lapses and issued a notice requiring Dami to answer a compliance questionnaire and advised that Dami could request the prehearing conference over this issue.  Dami did not respond to this notification so a second notification was sent on June 25, 2014, with a compliance questionnaire and an option to set a prehearing conference.  On July 11, 2014 Dami sent in a certificate of insurance covering Dami from July 10, 2014 to July 10, 2015.

DOWC issued a specific findings of fact, conclusions of law and order dated October 30, 2014 fining Dami $841,200!  Under Section 8-43-409(1),(b), C.R.S.  Continue reading this article
 


Cases You Should Know

Theories Are Not Scientific Evidence: In Lorenzen v. Pinnacol Assurance, 2019COA54 (April 18, 2019)(awaiting publication), the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s judgment in favor of the defendant-insurer against a bad faith claim brought by the Claimant.  Claimant alleged that the insurer’s denial of authorization resulted in a 13-day delay of Claimant’s spinal cord surgery causing permanent impairment to the spine due to prolonged nerve compression.  Claimant presented multiple medical experts who were generally in agreement that, while “sooner is better” is a sound medical principle when providing treatment, there was no definitive medical evidence that the 13-day delay actually caused any impairment.  The district court excluded the testimony based on Colorado Rule of Evidence 702, which requires that medical evidence be reliable, relevant and not based on unsupported speculation.  The Court of Appeals agreed, finding that because Claimant could not prove the insurer’s conduct caused impairment, he could not prove bad faith.
 
Moral of the story: A party seeking to prove that an insurer’s conduct caused a medical condition must offer actual medical evidence of a relationship between the conduct and the condition, not just a theory that a causal relationship is possible.

  

The Clock is Ticking, Or Is It?: In McGlothlen v. ICAO, 18CA0763 (April 25, 2019)(nsfop), the Colorado Court of Appeals set aside an ALJ’s Order which dismissed a claim for a work injury on the basis that the statute of limitations had run.  Claimant first reported symptoms in 2012, but did not file a claim.  The employer filed a First Report of Injury and Notice of Contest in 2013.  Instead of pursuing workers’ compensation benefits, Claimant filed a lawsuit in federal court against her employer.  The suit was dismissed on the basis that Claimant’s only relief was through workers’ compensation.  When Claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim in 2017, the ALJ dismissed on the grounds that the two-year statute of limitations had run without a reasonable excuse to extend an additional year.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the Act acknowledged a First Report from an employer as notice of a claim unless specifically objected to by a Claimant.  In the federal court lawsuit, the employer argued that the First Report was a claim for workers’ compensation, while later arguing to the ALJ that the Report was insufficient notice of a claim for purposes of the statute of limitations.  The Court of Appeals remanded to the ALJ to reconsider whether there was a reasonable excuse allowing for extension of the statue of limitations under the facts.
 
Moral of the story: By creating a First Report of Injury, an employer acknowledges that an employee may have reported a work injury and therefore, this may be considered a “notice claiming compensation.”  Arguing that a First Report is notice in one court proceeding, while denying it in another, will not help your statute of limitations defense.

 

Tortfeasors Can’t Reap the Windfall: In Scholle v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 2019COA81, 18CA0049 & 18CA0760 (May 23, 2019), a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s admission of evidence of the amount of workers’ compensation benefits paid by the insurer. The injury at issue arose from a collision between William Scholle, a United Air Lines employee, and Daniel Moody, a Delta employee, during the course and scope of the two men’s respective employment. United Air Lines, a self-insured employer, settled its subrogation interests with Delta. Mr. Scholle initiated a personal injury lawsuit against Delta in district court, and the case went to trial to determine the amount of damages Mr. Scholle incurred. The trial court judge allowed Delta to present evidence of the amount of workers’ compensation benefits paid because the trial court held that the collateral source rule did not apply. Under the collateral source rule, evidence of payment by a third-party or collateral source, typically an insurance company, cannot be admitted. The purpose of the rule is to prevent the tortfeasor from benefiting from the payment by the collateral source. The Court of Appeals held that workers’ compensation payments still constitute payments by a collateral source when the insurer has settled with the tortfeasor. Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in allowing evidence of the amount of workers’ compensation benefits paid. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to the trial court for a new trial.
 
Moral of the story: Parties in a subrogation action cannot sidestep the collateral source rule by settling the insurer’s subrogation interests before proceeding to trial in district court. At trial, only evidence of the amount of medical benefits billed will be admitted, not the amount actually paid per the workers’ compensation fee schedule.

FINE, FINE EVERYWHERE A FINE – EXCESSIVE FINES BY DOWC

BACKGROUND

On June 3, 2019 the Colorado Supreme Court issued a published opinion captioned Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Workers’ Compensation v. Dami Hospitality, LLC, 2019SC47.  The decision involved a fine handed down by the DOWC against an uninsured employer.

FACTS

Dami Hospitality, LLC., (Dami) is the owner of a hotel in Denver that employs between 4 and 10 people at any given time.  Dami let its workers’ compensation policy lapse on July 1, 2005.  When notified of the violation for failing to maintain coverage Dami conceded the violation and paid a settlement in June 2006.  Just 2 months later Dami’s coverage lapsed again and it went without coverage from August 10, 2006 to June 8, 2007.  Dami maintained coverage from June 9, 2007 to September 11, 2010, but it’s coverage lapsed on September 12, 2010 and Dami went without coverage until July 9, 2014.

DOWC discovered the lapses and issued a notice requiring Dami to answer a compliance questionnaire and advised that Dami could request the prehearing conference over this issue.  Dami did not respond to this notification so a second notification was sent on June 25, 2014, with a compliance questionnaire and an option to set a prehearing conference.  On July 11, 2014 Dami sent in a certificate of insurance covering Dami from July 10, 2014 to July 10, 2015.

DOWC issued a specific findings of fact, conclusions of law and order dated October 30, 2014 fining Dami $841,200!  Under Section 8-43-409(1),(b), C.R.S.

For every day the employer fails or has failed to ensure to keep the insurance required by articles 40 to 47 of this title in force, allows or has allowed insurance to lapse, or fails or has failed to affect the renewal of such coverage: impose a fine of: (I) not more than two hundred and fifty dollars for an initial violation; or (II) not less than two hundred and fifty dollars or more than five hundred dollars for a second and subsequent violation.

A separate schedule of funds was promulgated under Rule 3-6(D) in conjunction with the statutory section classifying second and subsequent violations as follows:

Class VII 1-20 Days $250/Day

Class VIII 21-25 Days $260/Day

Class IX 26-30 Days $280/Day

Class X 31-35 Days $300/Day

Class XI 36-40 Days $400/Day

Class XII 41 Days $500/Day

The DOWC fine was based on this classification process.  Dami explained that its lapse in coverage was based on its reliance that others maintain coverage and that given its $50,000 a year payroll, it was unable to pay the fine.  DOWC treated Dami’s response as a petition to review and, in an effort to settle the fine dispute, offered to decrease the fine amount to $425,000.  Dami claimed, among other things, that the fine was in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting excessive fines.  DOWC declined DAMI’s leniency request citing that the reasons for coverage lapse were within Dami’s control, that discretion on fine amount was not within its power and that it could not address the constitutional arguments.  Dami appealed and at the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (ICAO) level the issue was sent back to DOWC to consider various mitigating and non-mitigating factors.  The DOWC issued a subsequent Order declining the issue on remand, essentially stating that the graduated fines under the Rule take into account these mitigating and non-mitigating factors.  Dami again appealed to the ICAO which then simply affirmed the DOWC.

The case was ultimately appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals which found that the DOWC abused its discretion by not considering various mitigating and non-mitigating factors as required by applicable case law.  The DOWC then petitioned for certiorari to the Colorado Supreme Court.

RULING

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether the Eighth Amendment excessive fines clause applies to companies.  It concluded that this clause does apply to companies, finding that companies are subject to similar protections against excessive fines just as individuals.  The Colorado Supreme Court further found that fines are subject to proportionality test to determine if they are excessive.  The Court held that when a fine is imposed on a per diem basis, with each day being a separate violation, evaluation of whether the fine is excessive must be done with each daily fine.  Therefore, the whole matter was sent back to DOWC so the parties could have a potential evidentiary hearing over proportionality considerations.

IMPLICATIONS

The DOWC has been in the habit of issuing compliance/show cause orders and subsequent fines against noncomplying employers.  Many of these orders have appeared excessive and were the subject of newspaper articles.  In addition, the DOWC maintains a recently created uninsured fund designed to provide coverage for injured workers hurt on the job working for noncomplying employers.  This fund is, in part, funded by DOWC fines levied against noncomplying employers.  These orders are issued without any mechanism for an evidentiary hearing over the mitigating factors identified by the court in this Dami decision.  Given this decision, it appears evidentiary hearings may now need to be held in conjunction with the compliance/show cause orders issued by DOWC.  Other possible implications include finding or creating new funding mechanisms to help build-up the uninsured employers fund outside of fines and penalties.

If you have any questions about fines, or any other topics, please contact any of the attorneys at Lee & Brown.

 

The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update May 2019

Lee and Brown LLC Partners and Certifications

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update
on recent developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.
Lee and Brown Denver AttorneysFollow us on LinkedIn

 


In the News
L & B Members Katherine Lee and Joe Gren (pictured with Liberty Mutual adjuster Brittany Pintor) were honored to attend the premier of the movie “Two Hearts”  based upon the book “All My Tomorrows.”  The book was written by a Firm client after he suffered the tragic loss of his son.  Both the book and the movie detail the emotional story behind the donor family’s decision and the lives, forever changed, of the recipients and their families. The premier also included a tour of The Gabriel House of Care, built in large part from a donation by one of the organ recipients.  The Gabriel House of Care houses individuals waiting for or recovering from organ transplants, and is conveniently located steps from the Jacksonville, Florida Mayo Transplant Clinic.  Katherine and Joe were honored to be included as guests, and learned a great deal about the gift of organ donation, which inspired a Firm contribution to an amazing and transformative cause.

 


Noteworthy Cases

Joshua Brown Attorney Denver In McIntyre v. Global Medical Response, W.C. No. 5-078-097, Member Joshua D. Brown and Associate Susanna Thomas-LovricSusanna Thomas-Lovric successfully defended Claimant’s pursuit of specific medical benefits.  Claimant was employed by Global Medical Response as a paramedic for over 20 years, when he slipped and fell down icy stairs in April 2018.  Following the injury, Claimant underwent extensive cervical and lumbar spine surgeries.  Respondents defended against causation and relatedness based on pre-existing injuries and Claimant’s failure to timely report head and neck symptoms to his ATP.  Claimant argued that the fall had aggravated preexisting injuries that were work related, and that his ATP failed to document his cervical spine complaints.  The ALJ denied Claimant’s request for reimbursement for both surgeries.  He found that the cervical spine surgery was not causally related to the workplace injury, but that it was a prophylactic measure related to both Claimant’s degenerative conditions and a preexisting injury.  He also found that the lumbar spine surgery, although reasonable and necessary, was not causally related to the workplace injury because Claimant had a history of lumbar spine complaints and failed to prove that the workplace injury caused an aggravation of same.

Joseph Gren Denver AttorneyMember Joe Grenand Associate Kristi Robarge successfully defended a full contest claimKristi Robarge in Mahoney v. Evraz, W.C. No. 5-084-115.  Claimant alleged an injury to his hip from operation of a cutoff machine while pulling large pieces of pipe down the table.  Claimant made several inconsistent statements to his treating providers, his employer, and to the ALJ.  Respondents’ expert credibly testified that the alleged mechanism of injury would not cause Claimant’s injury.  Respondents’ expert also opined that the cause of Claimant’s symptoms was due to an unrelated condition known as meralgia paresthetica.  The ALJ found Respondents’ expert credible and found Claimant not credible. Hence, the ALJ denied and dismissed Claimant’s claim for compensation.

 

Matt Boatwright AttorneyAssociate Matt Boatwrightsuccessfully defended a full contest claim in Rose v. Allied Universal, W.C. No. 5-070-620. Claimant claimed that she suffered a knee injury while running to board a train as part of her duties as a security guard.  Claimant had a medical history involving treatment for the same knee prior to the work injury that was not disclosed to the treating provider.  Claimant later disclosed the treatment but gave multiple different accounts of how the preexisting condition arose. Respondents’ expert opined that the alleged mechanism simply was not sufficient to have caused the injuries for which Claimant sought treatment.  The ALJ ultimately found that, while Claimant did experience pain after the event in question, Claimant did not suffer an injury that arose out of and occurred within the course and scope of employment. The ALJ cited inconsistencies in the records that could not be reconciled with testimony. The claim was denied and dismissed.

 

Associate Matt Boatwrightalso successfully defended against a claim for conversion from an upper extremity impairment to a whole person rating in Tucker v. United Natural Foods Incorporated, W.C. No. 5-043-659. Claimant claimed that he suffered injuries to his neck as part of his work-related shoulder injury that warranted conversion to a whole person impairment.  Claimant had ongoing treatment involving his cervical spine.  While the ALJ did find that Claimant suffered functional loss in the shoulder, he found that the limitations were confined to that body part and did not extend to his neck.  The ALJ found that Claimant had failed to prove that complaints of neck pain and dysfunction arose to the level of functional impairment to that body part.  Accordingly, the ALJ denied Claimant’s request for conversion.

 


 

Fran McCracken

 

 

 

Fran McCracken
NEW COLORADO LAW LIMITS OPIOID PRESCRIPTIONS

Colorado is addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic with an array of public and private initiatives.  Per the American Medical Association,  the state Medicaid agency (the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing [HCPF]) and the Division of Insurance (DOI) are spearheading the initiatives.  On March 16, 2018, the revised Guidelines for Prescribing and Dispensing Opioids were adopted by all six of Colards: the Colorado Dental Board, the Colorado Medical Board, the State Board of Nursing, the State Board of Optometry, the Colorado Podiatry Board and the State Board of Pharmacy.   Continue reading this article

 


Cases You Should Know

It’s All Fun and Games – Even if You Get Hurt: In Schniedwind v. Rite of Passage, W.C. No. 5-051-507-03 (March 12, 2019), Claimant worked as a licensed therapist for the employer. She alleged she sustained a work-related injury riding a bicycle while accompanying a team of students. The ALJ found the cycling excursion was a recreational activity. Additionally, the ALJ held that, although Claimant’s participation in the ride conferred a benefit to the employer, her injuries were not compensable because her participation in the activity was voluntary. The panel upheld the ALJ’s Order as the findings were supported by substantial evidence.

Moral of the story: When participation in a recreational activity is voluntary, injuries resulting from participation in this kind of activity are not compensable.

 

Seconds Anyone?: In Davoli v. University of Colorado, W.C. No. 5-068-419-001 (March 15, 2019), Claimant sustained an admitted head injury when she hit her head on a counter.  While receiving treatment for the admitted claim, Claimant hit her head again on an x-ray machine at work.  The second incident was treated under the first admitted claim and there was no lost time associated with the second incident.  The ATP was aware of both events and opined that the diagnosis and treatment remained the same.  Respondents never filed a second claim for the second incident.  The parties went to hearing on the second claim for compensability and benefits.  The ALJ found that since there was no lost time, no permanent impairment, and the claim was administered under the first injury, the claim was denied.  On review, ICAO remanded the case for further findings indicating that the claimant suffered a compensable injury if the second incident of hitting her head on the X-ray machine caused the need for medical treatment or disability.

Moral of the story:  If a new incident aggravates, accelerates, or combines with a pre-existing injury and causes the need for medical treatment, a second claim should be filed – even if there is no resulting disability.

 

FAL the Void: In Martin v. Jack in the Box d/b/a Qdoba Mexican Grill, W.C. No. 4-968-114-01 (March 15, 2019), Claimant sought review of an Order that denied and dismissed his claim and ordered that the FAL was void ab initio. To deem the FAL void ab initio would mean the document was never filed. Claimant was assaulted behind the restaurant and Respondents admitted liability on the claim. Claimant reported to his employer and police officers that the assault was random; however, further investigation, after the FAL was filed, showed that the assault was personal in nature. If an assault is personal in nature, resulting injuries are not compensable. In re Question by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Cir., 759 P.2d 17 (Colo.). Claimant argued that there was no statutory authority to permit an admission to be retroactively withdrawn or revoked and argued that Respondents needed to reopen the claim to terminate future benefits.  ICAO determined that case law allowed declaring admissions void ab initio and affirmed the ALJ’s Order.

Moral of the story: If additional investigation after a FAL is filed proves that the injury is not compensable, a judge can find the admission was void from the outset.

NEW COLORADO LAW LIMITS OPIOID PRESCRIPTIONS

Colorado is addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic with an array of public and private initiatives.  Per the American Medical Association,  the state Medicaid agency (the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing [HCPF]) and the Division of Insurance (DOI) are spearheading the initiatives.  On March 16, 2018, the revised Guidelines for Prescribing and Dispensing Opioids were adopted by all six of Colorado’s prescribing and dispensing Boards: the Colorado Dental Board, the Colorado Medical Board, the State Board of Nursing, the State Board of Optometry, the Colorado Podiatry Board and the State Board of Pharmacy.  On May 21, 2018, then Governor, John Hickenlooper, signed Senate Bill 18-22, Clinical Practice for Opioid Prescribing.  The bill, which limits the number of opioid pills a healthcare provider can prescribe, went into effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature.  Under the new law, a prescriber must limit a patient’s initial prescription of an opioid to a seven-day supply, if the prescriber has not written an opioid prescription for the patient in the preceding twelve months.   All six dispensing Boards recommend a prescription of less than 50 MME per day and utilization of long-acting or extended relief formulations. These limits do not apply in certain discrete situations, including, if, in the judgment of the prescriber, the patient:

 

  • Has chronic pain that typically lasts longer than 90 days past the point of healing, as determined by the prescriber;
  • Has been diagnosed with cancer and is experiencing cancer-related pain;
  • Is experiencing post-surgical pain, expected to last longer than fourteen days due to the nature of the procedure; or
  • Is undergoing palliative care or hospice care designed to improve quality of life.

 

After the first prescription, the prescriber may exercise discretion in issuing a second-fill for a seven-day supply. In cases of a second-fill, the prescriber is required to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database before prescribing additional opioids for the same  patient.  Failure to check the PDMP constitutes unprofessional conduct if the prescriber repeatedly fails to comply with this PDMP requirement.  The requirement to check the PDMP on a second-fill does not apply in situations exempting compliance with the seven-day first-fill, with two additional exemptions:

 

  • The patient is receiving the opioid in a hospital, skilled nursing, residential, or correctional facility; or
  • Is receiving treatment during a natural disaster or where mass casualties have taken place.

 

After the second opioid prescription, the law has no additional restrictions on the healthcare provider’s prescribing practices.

 

In keeping with SB 18-22, the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation recently released its amendments to Rule 18, W.C.R.P., the Medical Fee Schedule. The updated fee schedule took effect January 1, 2019.  While several important changes were made in the amended fee schedule rule for 2019, including inclusion of the most current CPT code terminology, HCPCS codes, Colorado Z-codes (state-specific billing codes) and Medicare’s most current National Physician Fee Schedule Relative Value file, with updated conversion factors, the amended rule also incorporates the revised physician prescription/dispensing restrictions on opioids.   The amended rule language provides:

 

Opioids classified as Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances that are prescribed for treatment lasting longer than seven days shall be provided by a pharmacy.

 

The changes to Rule 18, W.C.R.P. suggest the Division of Workers’ Compensation intends to move forward and integrate any necessary modifications to drive full compliance with the new restrictions on physician dispensing of Schedule II and III opioids. Physicians prescribing chronic opioids through the Workers’ Compensation system are also expected to comply with Colorado’s Medical Treatment Guidelines, Rule 17, Exhibit 9, addressing chronic pain disorder.  While the Guidelines do not have the force of law, they are intended to assist practitioners in the safe prescribing and dispensing of opioids.

 

If  you have any questions about the Medical Treatment Guidelines, changes to the Medical Fee Schedule, or any other topics, please contact any of the attorneys at Lee & Brown.

 

The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update April 2019

Lee and Brown LLC Partners and Certifications

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update
on recent developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.
Lee and Brown Denver AttorneysFollow us on LinkedIn

 


In the News

 

Lee & Brown LLC, is pleased to announce all 5 Members, Katherine M. Lee, Joshua D. Brown, Karen Gail Treece, Joseph Gren and John Abraham, have been selected by Super Lawyers for 2019. Mr. Abraham joins the team for the first year as a Rising Star.  Super Lawyers evaluates lawyers across the country for its annual list of top attorneys.  Each candidate is measured against 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Lee & Brown is very proud of the recognition.

 


 

Noteworthy Cases

Member Joshua D. Brown and Of Counsel William M. Sterck successfully defended a Willam Sterck Attorneydeath claim in Ordonez-Gamez v. SkyWest Airlines, Inc., W.C. No. 5-079-980. The Decedent was staying at a hotel in Denver for flight training and was in travel status during this period.  One evening, after completing a difficult test, the Decedent went out drinking with a co-pilot. Before returning to his hotel, while heavily intoxicated, the Decedent ran into a busy road and was struck by a car.  The Decedent’s Counsel argued that he intended to return to his hotel room but was heading in the wrong direction because he was confused. Respondents successfully argued that the Decedent was on a personal deviation from travel status when he went out drinking. Decedent had not returned to the course and scope of employment at the time of his death because he was heading away from his hotel. The ALJ found that the intention to eventually return to a hotel room was not sufficient to end a deviation and specific travel away from the hotel continued the personal deviation. 

 
 

Member Karen Gail Treece  successfully defended Claimant’s Appeal in Pickering v. Hercules Commercial, W.C. No. 5-049-650. Claimant alleged he injured his right shoulder while tightening a bolt using an allen/hex wrench. The ALJ denied and dismissed the claim. Claimant complained of pain and was on light duty prior to the alleged date of injury. The ALJ relied upon testimony from Respondents’ expert that it was unlikely a person could exert sufficient force, using a ¼ inch hex wrench, to sustain a significant shoulder injury.  The Claimant appealed. Upon appeal, the Panel found the evidence supported the ALJ’s findings and affirmed.

 
 

Jessica Melson AttorneyAssociate Jessica Melson was successful in defeating a full contest claim in Aragon v. Costco Wholesale, Inc. W.C. No. 5-073-284. Claimant alleged she injured her neck by lifting a box of bagels overhead while working in the cooler. Ms. Melson elicited inconsistent testimony from Claimant that she first reported the onset of symptoms occurring over several months before the alleged injury, but testified she heard a pop in her neck on the day of the incident. Respondents’ expert credibly testified that Claimant’s pathology, and need for medical treatment, were related to preexisting degenerative conditions. The onset of symptoms was due to the natural progression of the preexisting conditions. The described mechanism of injury would not cause an injury to the cervical spine. The ALJ denied and dismissed the claim.
 


 

 

The Ongoing Dilemma of Intermittent FMLA Leave

Intermittent FMLA leave is a giant thorn in the side of human resource professionals across the country. The struggle is that not all intermittent leave requests are equal. Here’s a look at some of the most common scenarios and how to handle them. The FMLA allows employers some flexibility in granting different kinds of intermittent leave. Employees are entitled to take it for serious health conditions, either their own or those of immediate family members. The law also allows use of intermittent leave for child care after the birth or placement of an adopted child, but only if the employer agrees to it. It’s the company’s call. It’s not always simple, however; if the mother develops complications from childbirth, or the infant is born premature and suffers from health problems, the “serious health condition” qualifier would likely kick in. As always, it pays to know the medical details before making a decision.   Continue reading this article

 


Cases You Should Know
Even an ALJ has Limits: In Burren v. ICAO, 2019 COA 37, (March 7, 2019), Claimant sought review of an ALJ’s determination of the date she reached MMI despite there being no finding of MMI by an ATP or DIME physician. Respondents requested a 24-month DIME pursuant to C.R.S § 8-42-107(8)(b)(II), because no treating physician had placed Claimant at MMI in the two years that had elapsed since the date of the work-related injury. The DIME physician opined that Claimant was not at MMI.  Respondents applied for a hearing to overcome the DIME opinion.  The ALJ at the administrative hearing found the Claimant was at MMI.  Upon review, the Panel upheld the ALJ’s Order, concluding that substantial evidence supported the decision.  On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that an ALJ cannot determine MMI when neither a treating physician nor a DIME physician had placed the injured worker at MMI. The Order was set aside and the matter was remanded for the ALJ to enter an order consistent with the Court of Appeals opinion.
 
Moral of the Story: If neither the ATP nor the DIME physician have found Claimant to be at MMI, an ALJ may not rule a Claimant is.

 
 
No Show No TTD: In Willhoit v. ICAO, 2018CA1523 (Feb 14, 2019)(nfsp), Claimant sought review of a Panel decision affirming an ALJ’s Order denying and dismissing his claim for TTD benefits. Claimant sustained an industrial injury that prevented him from performing his essential job functions on July 31, 2017. Claimant stopped working and the employer began paying TTD benefits.   On August 30, 2017, the Employer sent Claimant an offer of modified employment complying with Claimant’s work restrictions.  The offer of modified employment was signed by Claimant’s treating physician.  Claimant failed to show up for work as scheduled. Claimant failed to show up for the following three days.  The employer discontinued Claimant’s TTD benefits pursuant to C.R.S. § 8-42-105(3)(d)(I).  Claimant sought a hearing to reinstate his TTD benefits on the grounds that the modified job offer did not comply with his restrictions. The ALJ denied and dismissed Claimant’s claim for benefits.  On review, the Panel affirmed the ALJ’s opinion.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals stated that when a Claimant is released to modified duty but fails to appear for work, Respondents may unilaterally terminate temporary disability benefits pursuant to C.R.S. § 8-42-105(3)(d)(I).   Neither the statute nor W.C.R.P. 6-1(A)(4) requires that a written offer of modified employment detail every aspect of how a job will be modified.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the Orders of the ALJ and the Panel.
 

Moral of the story: Respondents may unilaterally terminate TTD benefits when Claimant is released to modified duty but fails to appear for work.

 
 

Preexisting Condition is not a Conditional DQ: In Wojciuk v. Public Partnerships Colorado, W.C. No. 5-007-181 (March 4, 2019), Respondents’ sought review of an Order finding Claimant’s knee injury compensable. Claimant was working for the employer as an in-home caregiver.  While lifting a patient, Claimant felt immediate pain in her right knee. Of note, Claimant had preexisting arthritis in her right knee. Claimant initially treated but did not initially report the injury.  At the initial hearing, the ALJ found that Claimant’s pre-existing arthritis became symptomatic while she was doing a heavy lift and was a direct result of her job duties.  The ALJ determined that there was a compensable aggravation of her knee condition.  The Panel upheld the ALJ’s Order as the findings were supported by substantial evidence.

 

Moral of Story:  A preexisting condition does not disqualify a Claimant from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

The Ongoing Dilemma of Intermittent FMLA Leave

Intermittent FMLA leave is a giant thorn in the side of humanFMLA Leave resource professionals across the country. The struggle is that not all intermittent leave requests are equal. Here’s a look at some of the most common scenarios, and how to handle them. The FMLA allows employers some flexibility in granting different kinds of intermittent leave. Employees are entitled to take it for serious health conditions, either their own or those of immediate family members. The law also allows use of intermittent leave for child care after the birth or placement of an adopted child, but only if the employer agrees to it. It’s the company’s call. It’s not always simple, however. If the mother develops complications from childbirth, or the infant is born premature and suffers from health problems, the “serious health condition” qualifier would likely kick in. As always, it pays to know the medical details before making a decision.

 

Eligibility Is Not Automatic

Companies can successfully dispute employee claims to FMLA eligibility. Consider this real-life example: 

A female employee in Maine said she suffered from a chronic condition that made it difficult to make it to work on time. After she racked up a number of late arrivals – and refused an offer to work on another shift – she was fired. She sued, saying her tardiness should have been considered intermittent leave. Her medical condition caused her lateness, she claimed, so each instance should have counted as a block of FMLA leave. Problem was, she’d never been out of work for medical treatment, or on account of a flare-up of her condition. The only time it affected her was when it was time to go to work. 

The Court denied her claim for FMLA eligibility and indicated that intermittent leave is granted when an employee needs to miss work for a specific period of time, such as a doctor’s appointment or when a condition suddenly becomes incapacitating.  That wasn’t the case here, the judge said – and giving the employee FMLA protection would simply have given the woman a blanket excuse to break company rules.

Cite: Brown v. Eastern Maine Medical Center.

 

Designating Leave Retroactively

In order to maximize workers’ using up their allotted FMLA leave, employers can sometimes classify an absence retroactively. For example, an employee’s out on two weeks of vacation, but she spends the second week in a hospital recovering from pneumonia. Her employer doesn’t learn of the hospital stay until she returns to work. But she tells her supervisor about it, who then informs HR. Within two days, HR contacts the woman and says, “That week you were in the hospital should be covered by the FMLA. Here’s the paperwork.” The key here is that the company acted quickly – within two days of being notified of the qualifying leave. The tactic’s perfectly legal, and it could make a difference in the impact FMLA leave time could have on the firm’s overall operation. It’s also an excellent example of the key role managers play in helping companies deal with the negative effects of FMLA.

 

Using Employees’ Paid Time Off

Employers should never tell workers they can’t take FMLA leave until they’ve used up all their vacation, sick and other paid time off (PTO). Instead, companies can require employees to use their accrued PTO concurrently with their intermittent leave time. Employers can also count workers’ comp or short-term disability leave as part of their FMLA time – but in that case, employees can’t be asked to use their accrued PTO.

 

The Transfer Position

Companies can temporarily transfer an employee on intermittent leave, to minimize the effect of that person’s absence on the overall operation. The temporary position doesn’t need to be equivalent to the original job – but the pay and benefits must remain the same. And, of course, the employee must be given his old job – or its equivalent – when the intermittent leave period’s over.

There is one large restriction – the move can’t be made if the transfer “adversely affects” the individual. An example would be if if the new position would lengthen or increase the cost of the employee’s commute.  This would adversely affect the employee. Instead, such transfers need to be handled in such a way as to avoid looking like the employer is trying to discourage the employee from taking intermittent leave – or worse yet, is being punished for having done so.

 

Cooperation

Although FMLA is certainly an employee-friendly statute, employers do have some rights when it comes to scheduling intermittent leave. For instance, employees are required to consult with their employers about setting up medical treatments on a schedule that minimizes impact on operations. Of course, the arrangement has to be approved by the healthcare provider. But if an employee fails to consult with HR before scheduling treatment, the law allows employers to require the worker to go back to the provider and discuss alternate arrangements.

 

The Firing Question

Yes, companies can fire an employee who’s on intermittent FMLA leave. Despite the fears of many employers, FMLA doesn’t confer some kind of special dispensation for workers who exercise their leave rights. Obviously, workers can’t be fired for taking leave. But employers can layoff, discipline and terminate those employees who violate company policies or perform poorly. When an employee on FMLA leave is terminated, the Department of Labor decrees that the burdens on the employer to prove the worker would have been laid off, disciplined or terminated regardless of the leave request or usage.

 

Reductions in Force

When an employer has a valid reason for reducing its workforce, the company can lay off an employee on FMLA leave – as long as the firm can prove the person would have been let go regardless of the leave. However, again companies should be prepared not only to prove the business necessity of the move, but to show an objective, nondiscriminatory plan for choosing which employees would be laid off.

 

Misconduct or Poor Performance

Employees on FMLA leave – of any type – are just as responsible for following performance and behavior rules as those not on leave. However, companies that fire an employee out on FMLA will be under increased pressure to prove that the decision was based on factors other than the worker’s absence. As such, courts might well pose employers a key question: Why didn’t you fire this person before he/she took leave? This is not an easy answer to explain before a jury if liability is threatened at trial.  The good news is that a number of courts have upheld employers’ rights to fire employees on FMLA leave, even when the employee’s problems were first discovered when the employee went off the job. Nevertheless, companies should move cautiously if they are to terminate an employee currently out on leave due to misconduct or poor performance existing prior to the leave, but discovered after the leave begins.

 

Every case is different and requires different strategies and decisions because of the intricacies of the FMLA.  Hence, we highly recommend consulting in-house counsel, or one of the attorneys at Lee & Brown, to assist in making the appropriate decisions.

The Legal Buzz – Lee & Brown Newsletter and Case Law Update March 2019

Lee and Brown LLC Partners and Certifications

Thank you for taking the time to read our Firm newsletter. Our newsletter provides a monthly update
on recent developments within our Firm, as well as in the insurance defense community.
Lee and Brown Denver AttorneysFollow us on LinkedIn

 


In the News

 

JOSH BROWN DOES DEFENSE IN UTAH

Lee & Brown, LLC is happy to announce that Member Joshua Brown is now licensed in Utah and he is ready to show Utah how Lee & Brown does defense.

With a focus on representing insurance carriers and employers in Workers’ Compensation, Employment Law and General Liability Claims, Josh has been practicing in the state of Colorado since 2005 and has successfully defended matters arising under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA) and the Fair Labor Standard Act. Josh regularly counsels clients on the spectrum of employment issues, with the goal of avoiding litigation. He also advises and assists employers in developing and enforcing proper employment contracts and policies, employment handbooks and compensation agreements. If you have insurance defense claims in the state of Utah, Lee & Brown is who you want on your team.


 

Katherine Lee Named Super Lawyers’ Top 50 Women for Second Time

Every year, Super Lawyers evaluates lawyers across the country for its annual list of top attorneys. Each candidate is measured against 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. The “Top Lists” take exclusivity one step further by featuring selected Super Lawyers attorneys with the most total points earned. We are proud to announce that Member Katherine Lee was recognized for the 2nd consecutive year as one of Super Lawyers Top 50 Women in Colorado.

 


Noteworthy Cases

Member John Abraham successfully withdrew an admission for medical maintenance in Jehle v. Walmart Associates, Inc. Claimant sustained a minor back injury in 2004 from picking up a one-pound box of cups. Claimant had been receiving Grover medical treatment under a January 30, 2006 FAL, admitting for post-MMI medical treatment, with good benefit. Respondents sought to withdraw the FAL and terminate treatment on the theory that treatment was no longer causally related to the injury. Dr. Cebrian and Dr. Reiss credibly testified that Claimant’s pathology and need for ongoing medical treatment was due to the natural progression of her preexisting degenerative condition. The ATP only opined that the current treatment was “in part” related with “some causality” to the 2004 injury, but could not assign any specific, or even approximate, percentage. Therefore, ALJ Spencer granted Respondents’ request to withdraw the admission of liability for medical treatment after MMI.

 

In Rogers v. Family Dollar Stores, Of Counsel M. Frances McCracken successfully defeated Claimant’s attempt to overcome the DIME. In May of 2015, Claimant moved a box of inventory while working and felt radiating pain in her left elbow. Claimant underwent carpal tunnel release surgery, but her condition worsened. Dr. Ghazi opined chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and recommended treatment for same. Respondents’ IME Physician, Dr. Cebrian, opined that Claimant’s elbow was at MMI and that the carpal tunnel syndrome and neuropathic pain was non-claim related; he therefore opined that the recommended treatment was not reasonably necessary. He further opined the Claimant did not have CRPS, cautioned against the diagnosis of CRPS and suggested treatment as potentially harmful and not recommended in the medical treatment guidelines. The DIME Physician agreed with Dr. Cebrian that the only work-related injury sustained was an elbow strain, but felt Claimant was not at MMI for her work-related injury. He further opined that the carpal tunnel syndrome and complications following surgery for same were not causally related to the industrial injury. ALJ Jones ruled Claimant had not overcome the DIME physician’s opinion that the carpal tunnel syndrome was not related to the industrial injury and denied Claimant’s entitlement to ongoing medical benefits for treatment of same.

 

New Rule 11 – How’s It Going?

We’re now going on almost three months since the new Rule 11 took effect with the updated DIME fees and procedures. Time flies, doesn’t it? There has been some litigation that has ensued as a result of the recent changes, but overall the changes have been well received. This is likely because most people prepared adequately for the changes that were taking effect well before the start of the New Year.

The litigation that has ensued has been primarily regarding the “regions” listed in the checklist contained on the Application for DIME and also body parts involved in the claim. Since the “regions” have caused some confusion, the fees have also needed clarification. Continue reading this article

 

Cases You Should Know

This Deal Stinks. Must be Fraud: In Matus v. ICAO (January 31, 2019)(nfsp), Claimant attempted to reopen his settled claim based upon fraud and mistake because it did not adequately fund the MSA. The Court found no fraud because the MSA was based upon Claimant’s medical records and had been approved by CMS. There was no mistake as both parties knew the amount of the MSA when they entered into the settlement. The Court upheld the ALJ.

 

Moral of the Story: To reopen for fraud, the petitioner must prove the party knew it was making false representation. To reopen for mistake, it must be proven both parties were mistaken at the time of the contract.

 

Just Biding Time: In Garcia v. Swift Foods, W.C. No. 4-679-322 (January 8, 2019), Claimant suffered a back injury in 2005. He was placed at MMI and Respondents filed a FAL. Claimant requested a hearing for petition to reopen and post MMI medical benefits. The parties stipulated “Claimant timely filed a petition to reopen”, and Respondents admitted for medical maintenance treatment. Four years later, Claimant filed another Petition to Reopen. Respondents asserted the Petition to Reopen was barred by the Statute of Limitations. The Panel affirmed the ALJ that found the Petition to Reopen was timely filed when it had initially been filed it four years prior and there was no indication in the Sstipulation that Claimant withdrew it.

 

Moral of the Story: Use precise language in stipulations to assure claims are closed.

 

A Little Extra TTD: Claimant was placed at MMI and started vocational rehabilitation. Respondents admitted for TTD benefits during rehabilitation. Claimant completed rehabilitation and Respondents filed a GAL terminating TTD benefits. The Panel upheld an Order from the Director that Respondents must give 14 days notice to Claimant before they can terminate TTD benefits following vocational rehabilitation. Thus, Claimant was entitled to 14 additional days of TTD. Kardisco v. Red Sky Construction, Inc., W.C. No. 4-931-411 (January 15, 2019).

 

Moral of the Story: Once TTD is admitted, it can only be terminated in the specific ways enumerated in C.R.S. §.8-42-105.

 

How Many Stops Does It Take to Get to Deviation?: In Satterfield v. RM Weiss Contract Sales, W.C. No. 5-069-072 (February 4, 2019), Claimant worked as a sales associate and required a set of binders for a presentation. He drove to Office Depot to obtain the binders. On the way to Office Depot, he stopped at the dry cleaner to retrieve several work shirts when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Respondents denied liability, contending the injury was a deviation because he was on a personal errand. ICAO affirmed the ALJ finding the claim compensable because the stop at the dry cleaner did not change the route the Claimant planned to take to arrive at Office Depot. The fact that Claimant intended to stop at the dry cleaner on the way to Office Depot did not sever chain of causation because, even if Claimant had no laundry at the dry cleaner, he had to take the same route to get to Office Depot.

 

Moral of Story: An injury may be compensable when Claimant makes a stop while proceeding to an activity within the course and scope of employment, if the stop does not change the route Claimant planned to take.

 

You Didn’t Like that Order? How About a Penalty on Top of It?: In Lange v. Kern USA, W.C. No. 4-907-620-002 (January 18, 2019), Claimant sought review of an Order that assessed penalties for failing to abide by a prior Order directing him to repay an overpayment. At an initial hearing, the ALJ ordered Claimant to repay the overpayment at the rate of $50 per month. Claimant made no payments on the overpayment. Respondents sought hearing for penalties for failure to comply with the Order to repay the overpayment. The ALJ ordered a penalty of $2.00 per day. On appeal, Claimant contended the penalty was unreasonable. The panel noted that the ALJ had available to him a penalty range of 1 cent to $1,000 per day. Choosing to set the daily penalty at $2.00 was reasonable since the only alternative would be virtually no fine at all.

 

Moral of Story: Do not ignore orders because significant penalties can be assessed for failure to comply with any order from the Director or ALJ.

 

Substantial Evidence: In Henry v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, W.C. No. 4-978-452-06 (January 25, 2019), Claimant sought review of an Order that Claimant had not overcome the DIME. Claimant took issue with the ALJ’s interpretation of the evidence and used her appellate brief to re-argue the merits of the claim. ICAO held it had no authority to reweigh the evidence as this was the exclusive prerogative of the ALJ as the fact-finder.

 

Moral of Story: The substantial evidence standard of review does not permit a reviewing forum to reweigh the evidence with a view toward determining whether, given the evidence as a whole, “a mistake has been committed” in the weighing of the evidence.

 

Inconsistent Findings of Fact: In Martinez v. LKQ Holding Corporation, W.C. No. 5-007-076-001 (February 4, 2019), Claimant sustained a lumbar strain at work. He was placed at MMI and requested a DIME. Claimant returned to work and alleged a new lumbar spine injury prior to attending the DIME. The ATP found the subsequent incident was a “flare-up” from the first injury. But, the DIME determined the subsequent injury was a new injury. Claimant filed for hearing regarding compensability of the second injury. In the Findings of Facts, the ALJ found in the subsequent injury Claimant was working when he felt a pop and he “reinjured his back.” But, the ALJ also held the subsequent injury was a “flare-up” of the admitted claim. ICAO remanded the case because the ALJ’s Findings of Facts were contradictory as to the cause of Claimant’s subsequent condition and whether it was an exacerbation of the original injury or a new injury.

 

Moral of Story: Claimant is entitled to medical benefits if the employment aggravates, accelerates, or combines with preexisting condition to cause need for medical treatment.

New Rule 11 – How’s It Going?

We’re now going on almost three months since the new Rule 11 took effect with the updated DIME fees and procedures.  Time flies, doesn’t it?   There has been some litigation that has ensued as a result of the recent changes, but overall the changes have been well received.  This is likely because most people prepared adequately for the changes that were taking effect well before the start of the New Year.

 

The litigation that has ensued has been primarily regarding the “regions” listed in the checklist contained on the Application for DIME and the body parts involved in the claim.   Since the “regions” have caused some confusion, the fees have also needed clarification.   Some of the litigation revolved around the specific body parts to a claim and Rule 11’s breakdown of cost.   The checklist looks as follows:

 

2019 DIME Application

 

Above each set of body parts, the boxes are listed as regions.  Pursuant to Rule 11, “less than three regions” is a fee of $1,000.   “Three or more regions” is a fee of $1,400.   It is recommended to double-check the Applications for DIME that are received to see if compliance with the Rule is met.   Any discrepancies and/or arguments concerning interpretation of the Rule can be handled by the Prehearing Administrative Law Judges.   The Judges have done an outstanding job of interpreting the Rule and correcting many issues for the DIME unit.  Also note, that some of the disputes have resulted in body parts that either were or were not related to the claim.   Such disputes have involved related body parts that should be part of the DIME, however claimants have tried to keep them out to lower the overall costs of the DIME.   Other disputes have arisen between the terms “and/or” as used in the Rule.  The arguments pertaining to the semantics have been resolved mostly using the word “or” to imply that either one or the other conditions must be met to trigger a particular fee.

 

 

In general, the DIME process seems to be running smoothly and interpretation of the new Rules seems to be pretty straightforward.   Like any Rule change, it will take some time to get used to and iron out the wrinkles.  It is important to double-check the new Rule and make sure compliance is met to avoid missing any particular arguments that will pose any sort of leverage in a claim.   Recall, that the new Rule only applies to Notices and Proposals filed on or after January 1, 2019.   Any Notice and Proposal filed before that date adheres to the old Rule 11.

 

If you have any questions regarding the changes to the Rules or the updated statutes, feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Lee & Brown, LLC.

 

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