Independent Medical Examinations (IME) are part of every L&I claim and workers’ compensation claim in Washington State. Doctors that perform IME exams must have a certification from the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). When performing IME tests, doctors have to abide by certain rules and regulations. These rules are available in L&I’s Medical Examiner Handbook. However, if that’s the case, then why is there bias in IME reports?
Bias in workers’ compensation IME exams
As a workers’ compensation attorney, in my experience, IME doctors often demonstrate clear bias. In many cases, they ignore relevant sections of the law and ignore accepted conditions under the claim. Furthermore, it’s common to see internally inconsistent exam notes and reports. Interestingly, L&I still accepts the results of bad IME tests. Even though they are undoubtedly contrary to the law and to the facts of cases and claims. Personally, I’m fed up with this trend, which neither helps L&I nor work injury claimants.
The reality of IME exams in L&I claims
Here are some examples of issues from actual cases.
I recently cross-examined an IME provider who opined that the work injury claimant did not want to return to work. An opinion like that is nothing but biased, especially when it comes to the facts of the case. Looking at the facts, my client has been working and maintaining a job since the time of the examination.
Ignoring the law
In another workers’ compensation claim, the IME doctor states that the injured worker doesn’t need additional treatment. Furthermore, the doctor said that if the claimant needs a new MRI, then the MRI is not a treatment rather it’s diagnostic. The doctor’s response made my blood boil. In Washington State, people that suffer a work injury are eligible to receive necessary and proper health care services.
Ignoring accepted conditions
I recently received and reviewed an IME report. I was shocked when I saw the IME provider arguing that the complex medical condition does not exist. All while the work injury claimant is receiving ongoing treatment for the condition on a monthly basis. On top, L&I accepted the condition as final and binding years ago. At this point in the L&I claim, it’s very possible that L&I will accept the IME’s opinion. I won’t be surprised if L&I uses the wrongful report to make adverse determinations in this workers’ compensation claim.
I came across yet another IME report the other day. Here, L&I asked the IME examiner to consider 3 possible jobs for my client following the work injury. All three jobs require prolonged standing on feet, which the work injury claimant can’t tolerate because of their industrial injury. In the report, the IME examiner disapproved 2 of the jobs. However, for reasons unclear to me, the IME doctor approved the 3rd job. Even though it also requires prolonged standing. L&I terminated time-loss compensation benefits and closed the workers’ compensation claim.
Some personal notes and conclusions
IME exams are now big business in Washington State. Unfair and biased exams don’t help L&I because as an L&I attorney, I’m ready for a legal fight. The fight is very costly to L&I. These IME reports also don’t help people that had a work injury. It stalls their L&I claims and their ability to return to work.
I believe that L&I needs to revisit the misuse of IME exams. They need to employ corrective measures. That means obtaining unbiased and consistent opinions. IME tests must rely on the facts and the reality of cases and claims. They must also comply with workers’ compensation law in Washington State.