Workers Compensation - Washington

Tara Reck, Managing L&I Attorney at Reck Law PLLC - Workers' Compensation Attorneys

Month: January 2020

IME Exam in L&I Claims in Washington State

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) sometimes requires injured workers to attend Independent Medical Examinations or IME. In many cases, L&I asks work injury claimants to attend an IME in order to help L&I make claim-related decisions. From L&I’s perspective, an IME provides objective medical-legal examination for the purpose of establishing medical findings, opinions and conclusions about an injured worker’s physical condition.

 

IME tests in L&I claim appeals

It’s important to note that IME exams can only be performed medical examiners that are pre-approved by L&I. Fundamentally, I don’t share L&I’s perspective on IME examinations. When I represent work injury plaintiffs in appeals before the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA), often L&I medical arguments rely on IME opinion. In fact, it is very common for me to cross examine the same seven or eight IME doctors repeatedly.

 

IME panels in Washington State

There are several panel corporations that provide IME services to L&I. These include Sunrise Medical, Objective Medical Assessments Corporation (OMAC), Central Seattle Panel of Consultants, Medical Consultants Network (MCN), and others. Interestingly, most of the examiners who perform IME tests are contracted with more than one of these panels. In other words, having a variety of panels offering IME tests does not result in a greater variety of examiners.

 

IME exams are inherently biased and unfair

On occasion I’m surprised by the outcome of an IME. However, more often I predict the outcome before the examination even occurs. There are several reasons for this. L&I argues that IME tests are an objective process. I’ve had IME doctors testify that they are in the best position to provide opinions to L&I because they have no stake in the outcome. Whether these providers want to admit it or not, they have a bias in favor of L&I.

 

The Department of Labor and Industries controls the process and procedure of every IME from start to finish. For one, L&I sets the ground rules for these examinations. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the examiners must be approved by L&I. In addition, examiners are mandated to follow the Medical Examiner’s Handbook written by L&I.

 

IME examiners are asked to answer specific questions given to them by the claim manager. Typically, along with the questions presented to IME doctors, the claim manager usually provides claim related information. This information can include the status of the claim, the L&I claim accepted conditions and the contested conditions. The IME examiner reviews the medical records provided by L&I and is paid according to fee schedules dictated by L&I. Finally, the examiner must produce a report in accordance with L&I timelines.

 

IME exams from the viewpoint of injured workers

In my experience, injured workers who are required to attend an IME rarely feel that the process is unbiased and objective. For example, a work injury claimant has no choice when it comes to the IME doctor. In addition, the date and time of the IME exam is set by L&I. Then, if there are any scheduling conflicts for the injured worker, he or she must ask for permission from the claim manger to reschedule.

 

Frequently, injured workers feel attacked and judged by the IME examiners. It’s very common for work injury plaintiffs to report that the examiners seem to ignore what they are saying. Consequently, the IME process leaves work injury claimants feeling frustrated, insecure, and unheard. People that suffer a work injury contact me all the time to inquire about representation. Many times, they call me because they have been scheduled for an IME, or recently attended an IME. As a result, they are concerned about the future of their claim.

 

IME notes from an L&I attorney

In my opinion, there are many legitimate reasons for which L&I needs outside, impartial medical opinions to help resolve L&I claim issues. However, I don’t believe that the current IME process is fair. I also don’t feel that the current format of IME examinations accomplishes the goals of the Industrial Insurance Act.

 

L&I Claim Notices: Notice of Decision, Payment Order

Workers’ compensation claims can be overwhelming. Recently, I’ve consulted with several injured workers who have been completely overwhelmed with their claims. As a result, they started avoiding claim related documents.

 

Dealing with L&I claim orders and communications

Some work injury claimants I talk to no longer open their mail because it was causing them too much anxiety. I call this the “ostrich approach”. Just like an ostrich, burying its head in the sand, injured workers with a work injury claim who avoid claim-related communication don’t see the danger that is coming. They may miss critical deadlines, which in turn, can cause permanent harm to their workers compensation claim.

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has the obligation to administer work injury claims. Similarly, claimants have the right to challenge L&I decisions that they believe are a mistake. However, work injury claimants only have 60 days to challenge and protest an L&I decision. If you do not file a request for reconsideration within 60 days, then you essentially waive your right to challenge L&I.

Remember, L&I makes mistakes. There’s no question about it. But, like it or not, it’s your job to be on top of things. In other words, if you don’t appeal an L&I decision, their mistake becomes final and binding under the law, no matter how wrong it may be.

 

L&I decision

When L&I makes a decision concerning an issue in an L&I claim, they must notify the injured worker. In fact, they have to send something called a written order. Usually, these decisions are titled “NOTICE OF DECISION”. Here is what one that comes from L&I looks like:

 

L-and-I Notice Of Decision

 

L&I payment order

Sometimes L&I makes unfavorable decisions in what they title “PAYMENT ORDERS”. You would think something called a payment order would be a favorable decision issuing a payment. It isn’t uncommon for L&I to make a decision denying time-loss compensation or closing a claim in a decision called “PAYMENT ORDER”. Here is an example:

 

L&I Payment Order

 

Can I protest a notice of decision or payment order?

Whether a decision is a NOTICE OF DECISION, PAYMENT ORDER, or has some other label, it’s’ easy to tell if you have the right to protest. For that, you can refer to the bottom of the decision letter and read it carefully. For example, it will look something like this:

 

L&I protest order

 

In some cases, work injury claimants protest a decision. Then, after some time goes by,  L&I affirms its previous determination. When this is the case, the notice of appeal rights looks as follows:

 

L&I Notice Of Appeal

 

Monitor your L&I claim

If you have a work injury claim or L&I claim, the most important thing you can do is to pay attention to notices. You can protect yourself and protect your workers compensation claim by protesting or challenging L&I’s mistakes on time. There is nothing more heartbreaking for me than being contacted by an injured worker who disagrees with an L&I decision after they waited too long to dispute a decision.

Don’t be overwhelmed by your claim. If your claim and the associated correspondence is causing you too much anxiety, contact an experienced attorney who can help alleviate your anxiety. Your attorney will receive all the communications directly. They will oversee your claim and ensure that the Department’s mistakes are challenged on time.

What Does My L&I Claim Worth? An Overview of Workers Compensation Claim Benefits

What’s the value of my L&I claim? What’s my workers’ compensation case worth? I get these questions all the time. And, my answer is always the same: “It depends”.

 

What is the value of my workers’ compensation claim?

Knowing or calculating the value of your workers’ compensation claim or L&I claim in Washington State is tough. If you file a work injury claim and the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) allows your claim, then you may be entitled to a variety of benefits. Some of these benefits have a monetary value. Furthermore, the value is unique to each L&I claim because every claim is different.

 

The purpose of this article is to help you figure out the potential value of all available benefits. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer or formula to calculate the exact value of your workers’ compensation claim. But, if you want to get a rough estimate, you can sum up the total value of benefits.

 

Medical treatment under L&I claim

It’s very difficult to put a dollar amount on the value of medical treatment. For many, and in my opinion as well, it is invaluable. Generally, if your claim has been allowed, then L&I (or the self-insured employer) will cover your medical bills and expenses, as long as the treatment is for conditions that relate to your work injury claim.

 

It is important to keep in mind that certain treatment recommendations must go through an authorization process. However, once authorized, the treatment is covered 100%. This means that there are no out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays or deductibles. Moreover, when you are incapable of working because of your work injury conditions, having a path to medical recovery and the peace of mind that your medical bills will be covered, is priceless.

 

Time-Loss Compensating benefits in L&I claim

If you have an allowed workers compensation claim or L&I claim and you are unable to work, then you are entitled to monetary wage replacement benefits. Time loss compensation (TLC) is one such benefit. It’s what you get when you are temporarily incapable of working.

 

Your time loss wage rate is based on what you were making at the time you got injured at work. A single male of female individual with no dependents receives 60% of their wage at the time they got hurt on the job. If you are married or have children, then you’ll receive a higher percentage.

 

Loss of Earning Power under an L&I claim

In some cases, after a work injury, some people are still able to work with limitations. For example, some injured workers can work reduced hours. Others might perform a light duty job that pays less than their job of injury. If you’re able to work after you were injured at work, and your new salary is lower than what you were making before, then you might be entitled to receive compensation for lost wages.

 

Loss of Earning Power (LEP) benefits are paid when you are doing limited work that results in a 5% or more decrease in your wage-earning capacity. This is a significant monetary value in any workers compensation claim. The specific value varies from individual to individual. And as explained earlier, it all depends on your earnings at the time of industrial injury or occupational disease manifestation.

 

Vocational services in L&I workers compensation claims

If you have an allowed L&I claim and you are permanently incapable of returning to your work, then you should be eligible for retraining. If L&I approves your retraining, they will pay for your retraining program for up to two years at total cost of approximately $18,000. In addition to the $18,000 cost of retraining, L&I will pay time-loss compensation benefits throughout your retraining program.

 

The topic of vocational services in workers compensation claims is very broad. They include many steps and services. You can read about important topics relating to vocations services by following the resources below:
1) Option 1 vs Option 2
2) Vocational services plan development
3) Job analysis
as well as many others. You can also refer to the high-level summary of vocational services in L&I workers compensation claims.

 

Permanent Partial Disability in L&I claim

Permanent partial disability (PPD) refers to a loss of bodily function because of an industrial work injury or a work disease. The degree to which you lose bodily function is called PPD rating. In this context, a PPD rating exam must be performed by a qualified medical professional.

 

In general, for parts of the body that can be amputated such as an arm or a leg, the PPD rating is based upon percentage of loss of function. For parts of the body that can’t be amputated, like the spine or mental health disability, the PPD rating is based on levels called “categories of impairment”. These categories, alongside other rules and guidelines, are outlined in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

 

In order to assess the loss of body function, the examining doctor compares your condition with the condition described in the categories. Then, the doctor selects the category that best describes your level of impairment. The monetary value of the PPD is based on a PPD award schedule, which is available on the L&I website.

 

Permanent Total Disability in L&I claim

Total disability is a physical or mental impairment that prevents you from working. Usually, medical professionals or vocational counselors determine if you are capable to work. If your disability is preventing you from returning to work in the foreseeable future, then we refer to it as Total Disability and consider it to be a permanent condition.

 

You must obtain an opinion from a medical provider to establish the likelihood that your disability will continue to impact your ability to work in the future. If you are indeed permanently totally disabled (PTD), then you are likely entitled to receive a pension under your L&I claim.

 

Pension in L&I claims

A pension in workers’ compensation claims mean that you receive monthly payments for the remainder of your life. Payments are made so long as you cannot, and do not, return to work. Like to time-loss compensation, your pension payments depend on what you were earning at the time of your work injury or disease manifestation. The pension benefit is intended to provide a source of income under an L&I claim for people with severe work injury that can never go back to work.