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

Category: IME (Page 1 of 4)

L&I Surveillance: I Think I’m Being Watched – What Should I do?

Surveillance in an L&I claim is relatively common. In fact, work injury claimants encounter surveillance in both self-insured claims and state-funded L&I claims. It isn’t against the law. Private investigators usually conduct the surveillance. Moreover, they know exactly what they can and cannot do under the law.

 

Willful misrepresentation in a workers’ compensation claim

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is the administrator for state-funded claims. Here, surveillance is more likely to occur after someone reports fraud relating to a work injury claim. For example, when a person receives workers’ compensation benefits but appears able to work. Another example is when the injured worker is working while collecting time loss compensation.

 

Under the Industrial Insurance Act, there is no such thing as fraud. There’s only willful misrepresentation. The relevant law for willful misrepresentation is RCW 51.32.240. In short, it’s willful misrepresentation to receive payments or other benefits in greater amounts than a person deserves. Simply put, it refers to making a false statement, misrepresentation, omission, or concealment of facts to deliberately obtain or increase benefits. Moreover, it also includes willful failure to disclose work-type activities.

 

L&I claim surveillance

Fraud isn’t part of the workers’ comp ecosystem in Washington State. However, the word “fraud” is a trigger to describe people that abuse or take advantage of the system. In fact, L&I encourages the public to report potential fraud. L&I takes these reports very seriously. For one, they built an entire fraud investigation unit. There, investigators frequently take statements and conduct surveillance. Hence, one of the easiest ways to “avoid” surveillance is to not give L&I reasons to suspect you.

 

Still, I’ve seen cases where people file reports against work injury claimants even when they’ve done nothing fraudulent. Luckily, surveillance in these instances reveals nothing more than workers trying to get through everyday life the best they can. Of course, I’ve also seen surveillance showing that an injured worker is lying about their injuries and limitations. I’m always very disheartened when I see blatant willful misrepresentation. This kind of behavior negatively impacts all workplace injury claimants.

 

 

Self-insured claims and surveillance

With self-insurance, there’s a third-party administrator (TPA) that manages the claim. In my experience, surveillance occurs much more frequently in self-insured claims. What’s more, third-party admins can request surveillance even when there’s no accusation of fraud. Many times, the surveillance is useless. Usually, the film shows workers doing nothing more than struggling to get in and out of cars. Or attending appointments and spending a lot of time at home. Consequently, we only find out about the surveillance later during the discovery phase when the case goes to litigation.

 

Workers’ compensation surveillance and bias

However, sometimes injured workers are surveilled doing normal things. For example, going for walks, grocery shopping, and taking out the garbage. I commonly watch tapes showing workers doing yard work, attending family outings, going out to eat, or walking their dog. Sometimes, attorneys or claim administrators share the footage with treating doctors and independent medical examiners (IME).  They do it to demonstrate that the work injury claimant is more physically capable than they lead on.

 

Depending on the film, this can be very effective in getting doctors to ease up or even remove physical restrictions. Sometimes this is very appropriate. Yet, many times the surveillance video doesn’t present a complete picture. Often, it shows things out of context. This typically leads to significant disagreements and litigation. There’s no easy way to prevent surveillance in self-insured claims. Therefore, it’s always best to ensure that you are being open and truthful. Describe your abilities and limitations to doctors honestly.

 

Takeaways and final notes

To summarize, surveillance is a standard practice in L&I claims. It’s legal and it happens all the time. It’s common in both self-insured and state-funded claims. When surveillance reveals behavior that’s consistent with doctors’ reports, then nothing will come of it. However, there are cases when a work injury claimant engages in activity beyond what they report. In such instances, the claim manager will likely use the footage to terminate benefits. In particularly egregious cases, claim handlers will use the surveillance records to push for willful misrepresentation charges.

 

If you suffer an injury at work and have a claim – it’s best to assume that someone is watching you. Therefore, your outward behavior must match your reports. Finally, it’s important to be honest. Describe your workplace injury and limitations honestly to doctors. Report the injury conditions in simple words the best way you can and you’ll be fine.

Self-Insured IME Exams: L&I Implements New Rules in Washington State

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) implemented new rules for self-insured independent medical examinations. These rules passed the legislative section during 2019-2020. I’m happy to share that the new rules officially kicked in on April 23, 2022.

 

Rules for self-insured medical exams

There are several changes under the new regulations. The most significant updates are summarized below. The first change relates to IME scheduling and notices. Previously, self-insured claim administrators provided injured workers a 14 days notice before an IME. However, under the new rule, the new time window is 28 days.

 

The second major change has to do with the notice form. Moving forward, self-insurers must include a standard form to notify workers’ compensation claimants of an upcoming IME. The form is available on the L&I website (although I wasn’t able to find it). More importantly, the form mandates insurers to provide critical information to workers. For one, it has to include the reason for the IME request.

 

Disputing independent medical exams in self-insured claims

The third rule change focuses on IME disputes. Here, workplace injury claimants can dispute upcoming IME exams. Moreover, the worker’s attending provider can also dispute an IME. Either way, it’s important to file the IME dispute at least 15 calendar days before the exam. The dispute must specify the reasons why the IME is inappropriate. In turn, L&I may postpone the IME. Moreover, there’s a very interesting case when an IME exam is under dispute yet the claimant attends it. If L&I determines the IME was in violation of RCW 51.36.070, then the IME report can’t be part of claim administration.

 

No more infinite IME exams

The fourth area of change is around the number of IME exams. From here on, there’s a limit on the number of independent medical exams that self-insurers can request. The actual number depends on the underlying issues and the reason for the IME. For example, IME doctors can perform only one exam when contending a new medical issue. The purpose of the one-time IME is to resolve the new medical issue before issuing a final order.

 

The fifth and final change I wanted to cover is for case-progress IME criteria. This happens when self-insured claim managers request an IME for accepted conditions. More explicitly, L&I considers IME exams for accepted conditions as case-progress exams. Self-insurers can only request these exams when:

1) The worker is not receiving necessary and proper treatment; or

2) Treatment stalled without any real improvement to physical or mental conditions.

 

So – what’s next?

The new rules are fresh out of the over. They are so new that it isn’t clear how they’ll impact the claim administration process. However, I applaud L&I for adopting the new rules. Clearly, they help protect work injury claimants. The changes eliminate excessive and inappropriate IME requests. These unnecessary IME exams tend to impede and inhibit productive claim progress.

 

Changing an Attending Provider During an Open L&I Claim: What are the Rules?

I recently ran into issues with designating an attending provider. So, I decided to write this article to help shed some light on the topic. In L&I claims and self-insured employer claims in Washington State, the opinions of attending providers receive special consideration. Therefore, selecting the attending provider is an important decision.

 

The first attending provider

After a work injury, to open a claim, a medical provider completes and files an initial Report of Accident (ROA) form. Many times, the provider that completes the form automatically becomes the initial attending provider. However, this designation can change.

 

First, it’s always important to remember that work injury claimants get to choose their attending provider. Sometimes, after a workplace injury, employers direct the injured worker to specific facilities. Usually, these are easily accessible urgent care type facilities. For example, Concentra, or occupational medicine divisions like Franciscan Occupational Medicine. Others include Kaiser Occupational Medicine and The Everett Clinic Occupational Medicine.

 

Choose your own attending provider

People are often surprised to learn they don’t have to see these specific clinics. You can choose any attending provider you wish. The only requirement is – they must be part of the L&I medical provider network (MPN). More importantly,  you can even transfer your attending provider during the claim! Below is some important information you need to know if you want to change providers.

 

Under RCW 51.36.010(2)(a) work injury claimants covered by the industrial insurance act receive proper and necessary medical and surgical services at the hands of a physician or licensed advanced registered nurse practitioner of the worker’s own choice. With one limitation: The location of the provider must be convenient for the injured worker.

 

Request to change attending provider

Under WAC 296-20-065, workers can freely choose a treating provider. More explicitly, it says that “no reasonable request for transfer to a network provider will be denied”. However, there are certain exceptions. If L&I denies your request, they must notify you. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) must also provide a reason for denial.

 

Some valid reasons for denying a request to change a provider include:

(1) When there are other providers that can give the necessary treatment. Here, their location must be more convenient to the work injury claimant.

(2) In cases where the new attending provider fails to cooperate with L&I rules.

(3) Whenever L&I pays ongoing time loss but there’s no reasonable progress towards returning to work.

(4) When you need special treatment which is outside the license or practice of the provider.

(5) If the claim administrator says the change is appropriate but the worker refuses or delays compliance.

(6) When the qualifications of the provider aren’t suitable to treat each of several accepted conditions.

 

Bottom line

If you want to transfer to a new attending provider, L&I might deny your request. When they do, please determine whether one of the exceptions above apply. Then, if none applies, you can elevate your request up the chain of command within L&I. As always, you can also contact a workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your options.

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