Monday, September 23, 2013

Work Comp Lawyers


We’ve all had to deal with the absurdity of government bureaucracy at one time or another. It can be frustrating. When the bureaucracy affects one of your loved ones, it can be worse. Particularly for a Mother who just wants to see her son get the benefits he earned. What makes matters worse in this case is it appears a law firm, hired by the state, did all they could do to see the case dragged on because by doing so, their fees piled up.

Cathy Hockman, who lives in northeastern North Carolina, just across the border from Chesapeake VA. That’s where her son was working, in a Best Buy store, when he was injured in 2007.


A mom’s letter to the Va. Workers Compensation Commission:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
To The Honorable Commissioner Williams:
The title Virginia Workers’ Compensation is an oxymoron. There is no real compensation in this curse of a system, put in place to protect the employers from law suits and to line the pockets of the greedy law firms who represent them, the insurance carriers, and their adjusters.

This system does not protect the injured worker; on the contrary it leaves him vulnerable, and allows him to be manipulated, humiliated, neglected, and rendered financially ruined.
The fifth anniversary of my son’s catastrophic workplace accident was December 11, 2012. Tragically his young life has been forever altered by his injuries. My son fell head first to the concrete floor in the warehouse of a Best Buy store in Chesapeake, VA. He suffered skull fractures, an epidural hematoma, which required a craniotomy, a ruptured ear drum, a sprained neck, a broken shoulder, a broken arm, a broken elbow, a broken wrist, and a dislocated knee.

The arm and knee injuries required closed reductions. He suffers from vision, cognitive, memory, and speech issues. He tests positive for seizure disorder. He suffers from severe debilitating headaches; he has been awarded all of his injuries and Lifetime Medical.  He was just a part-time worker and full-time college student when he was thrust into this system. What has been more devastating than his horrific accident has been his treatment allowed by a system that has turned their back on him, and is a lie with its very name . . . The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.

The entities who have greatly benefited from my son’s Lifetime Medical award have been the adjuster and the law firm of Midkiff, Muncie & Ross.

The law firm’s delays, subpoenas, depositions, and outrageously frivolous requests over the years have cost the ignorant and unenlightened insurance carrier and employer a huge amount of money in unnecessary and vexatious legal practices; The third-party adjuster has certainly enjoyed the added billing opportunities as well.

My son’s civil rights were violated by a doctor who performed an Independent Medical Evaluation. Investigators with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found this doctor guilty of failing to provide my son with his medical records and forced the medical entities to comply with the law. The Virginia Workers Compensation Commission was also notified to comply with HIPPA.

My son was denied cognitive therapy for over 9 months. He will never be able to get that time back. The law firm subpoenaed my son’s school records back to kindergarten in an attempt to find some form of learning disabilities to discredit his brain damage. Mostly, however, this was once again a delay tactic that means money . . . to some. This is incomprehensible! I feel sickened by the evilness of his efforts . . . in the name money.
Last year, the law firm spent multiple, multiple, multiple thousands of dollars to defend $163 for Temporary Total Disability for my son who missed a mere 3 days of work for his severe and debilitating headaches.  The neurologist alone was deposed at a cost of $500 an hour. There were numerous travel expenses for the law firm, numerous calls, interrogatories, numerous paper work expenses, etc, all of which were totally unnecessary.

My family was even deposed, causing all of us to miss work and lose wages. How can this go on and go unnoticed? Why isn’t there a place in the Virginia State Police Insurance Fraud Program to include and investigate this obvious type of abuse and misuse by law firms such as this one? This has been typical and repeated for the last 5 years!
“Insurance fraud is a crime that occurs when someone tries to make money from insurance transactions through deception” –This definition was copied from the State Police website.
My son can never be adequately, medically or financially compensated for his near death, permanent brain injury and multiple permanent orthopedic injuries. Despicably, the law firm has made a fortune off of my son’s tragic event, much, much more money than my son will ever see to care for his medical needs now; and especially as his health deteriorates as he ages.

Repeatedly, the law firm has dragged things out past deadlines imposed by the Code of Virginia, and supposedly, should be enforced by the Commission; repeatedly the law firm has not  been held accountable or penalized in any way by this impotent  system that has allowed the law firm and the adjuster to obscenely dehumanize my son. If this flagrant disregard for the Code of Virginia were demonstrated by the claimant . . . out of the system he would go, he would be investigated and face possible charges of insurance fraud! This is insurance fraud!

Repeatedly, the law firm waits to the 11th hour to pretend to agree to or cancel up-coming events. Then they never come forth with their promises and agreements. The percentages of these occurrences assure me that these are deliberate tactics used to squeeze the most money out of every event for their benefit.

My privacy was violated when a staff member of the Virginia Attorney General’s (AG) Office contacted someone within Midkiff, Muncie, & Ross.  I had made an inquiry regarding Special Counsel for the Commonwealth of Virginia. As I am sure you are quite aware, Midkiff, Muncie, & Ross are considered Special Counsel in the area of Workers’ Comp for the Commonwealth. I contacted the Virginia AG’s office for information and reassurance that this could not lead to familiarity and conflict of interest. Instead of a reply from the AG to my inquiry, I received a phone call from my son’s attorney. A member of [Midkiff, Muncie, & Ross] angrily contacted my son’s attorney and accused me of contacting his client, the “Commonwealth of Virginia.”  Well I guess that answered my question of conflict of interest . . . there most certainly is!

We were invited to Richmond, to the Office of the Attorney General. Apologies were made and we were told to “be assured that the individuals involved had been dealt with,” with the regard to the dissemination of my personal information and violation of privacy. I do not feel nor ever will feel “assured.”

We still believe that incident has led to direct repercussions towards my son by this law firm.
The familiarity within this system by the law firm is disrespectful to the Commonwealth, to the Commission, and to my son. At my son’s last hearing in Virginia Beach, a member of the law firm exited the courtroom directly behind and through the same hallway as the Deputy Commissioner. Nowhere, in a real court of law, would you ever see this occur. (The lawyer for the firm was going to the back to get an ice pack out of the freezer for his sore back). At the very least, could we all just pretend that this is an actual judicial proceeding?  This has no reflection on the Deputy Commissioner; instead this was a flagrant lack of respect and good-old-boy arrogance demonstrated by the lawyer for the firm.

During one of the most recent depositions with my son, lawyer for the firm repeatedly referred to the third-party claims adjuster, his client, as a b***h. This is unacceptable, unprofessional, and should not have to be tolerated.

Back in the spring of 2012 the lawyer for the firm requested mediation for a possible settlement. My son agreed. Months had passed and then the week before this was to take place the lawyer said something else had come up and couldn’t make it, against the so-called rules for this event. Convenient for him, because there were other things pending against the defendant that could not be brought up until the mediation; a hearing couldn’t be scheduled because of the mediation. So once again, delays and games were played by this law firm.
A hearing has been requested, again. Generally, we have become accustomed for the reimbursements to arrive 6 months to a year after submitted. This is shameful . . . and financially devastating! And again, the law firm/adjuster has violated the Code!

§ 65.2-524. Failure to pay compensation within two weeks after it becomes due.

At this point there needs to be a penalty for the penalty! And, as of the 17th of February 2013, they are in violation of yet another order set by the Commission on January 14 to pay my son for TTD from October 2012! This game has got to end. Why does my son have to fight like a dog for basic care and timely reimbursements?

If the Commission won’t stand their ground for the Commonwealth, what chance does my son have?

§ 65.2-710. Enforcement, etc., of orders and awards.

Orders or awards of the Commission may be recorded, enforced, and satisfied as orders or decrees of a circuit court upon certification of such order or award by the Commission. The Commission shall certify such order or award upon satisfactory evidence of noncompliance with the same.

When will the law firm be stopped from bleeding the insurance carrier dry and continue to use my son’s critical injuries for his personal and financial gain?

When will the Commission step up to the plate and require certain defense attorneys to play by the rules, The CODE OF VIRGINIA?

When will the insurance carrier/adjuster be sanctioned for their much tardiness in payments? (Hopefully exposing to them, to the law firm’s abuse).

When will my son receive reimbursements in a timely and legal manner?
When will my son have some form of his life back?

None of us realized when my son was awarded “Lifetime Medical” that it would really translate to  “Life Sentence.”

“The mission of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission is to strive for excellence by being an effective leader in providing public services by ethically administering our statutory duties and being responsive to the diverse needs of our customers.”

Somewhere along the way . . . the mission has been lost.

Respectfully,
Cathy Hockman

Comments:

Every employer and insurance company should be screaming "bloody murder" over this. Guess who pays for this waste? First the insurance companies. They try to pass along as much as the cost as they can to the policy holders via increased premiums, higher experience mod rates, and non-renewals forcing them into the state fund. Then the employers pass (as much of) the cost along to employees with reduced raises and on to customers in the form of higher prices. 

Cathy Hockman is absolutely correct in her assessment. Regardless of who wins, who loses, IF anything is awarded, the lawyers always get paid: (Technically the judge IS a lawyer, so I can safely say that "the lawyers always get paid.")

 The incestuous relationship between lawyers and legislators (government agencies) plagues all levels of government. It is more prevalent in State and Federal Government. The driving factor for this is that most congressmen ARE lawyers themselves. Think of it as a vested interest.

And where do congressmen voted out of office go to work? Big law firms or lobby groups (which are made up of lawyers too). Consider the following graphic from businessweek.com:



 The single largest group in both The House and Senate are lawyers.

I am NOT saying that all lawyers are bad and I am NOT saying that all lawyer relationships with government are bad. What I am saying, is that there are conditions that make abuse of the system easier without a system of checks and balances, accountability, and sunshine laws.

There are even some good examples. Consider Pennsylvania's Workers' Compensation Bureau Director: Stephen Fireoved. He was an attorney at the Chartwell Law Offices, LLP, in Philadelphia. The Chartwell Law Offices ar know as one of the best defense firms for employers. Stephen Fireoved knows first hand the challenges that employers face. He has also started making changes to the Workers' Compensation reporting system, leveraging technology and the Internet to make access easier and more effecient.

Disclaimer: I have personally worked with Stephen Fireoved on cases prior to his appointment as the BWC Director.

 The Irony:


Any lawyer worth his (or her) salt will tell you, even though you are right in your case, it will cost MORE (in the shoet run, but I will get to that in a minute) to prove that you are right than to settle and make it go away. In many situations, the employer doesn't even decide whether to settle or not, it is the insurance carrier that makes this decision.


So why is it about money? It seems that our legal system has become a "Mexican Standoff" where the person with the most money wins. Is that really justice or is the economic theory of profit maximization (decrease costs)? This then essentially prostitutes justice.


Do I have the answer, probably not, but at least I can help start the conversation. If I am going to criticize, I can at least offer a fix. Outlaw stupidity. If somebody has a back injury and claims total disability, a picture of them moving a refrigerator negates that (although it may still be partial disability).


Another fix is a fee schedule for contingency lawyers. It reminds me of the demotivator "If you're not part of the solution, there is good money in prolonging the problem."

...Enough of my complaining...


What to take away from this? Get involved in your work comp claims! Workers’ compensation claims affect your rates. You can take steps to control claim costs and affect your future premiums.

As always, I advocate "fair is fair." Injured employees should be taken care of, but injured employees should not milk the system.

Thank you for reading.



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