NY Workers Compensation Alliance Monitoring "Rocket Docket" Proposed Regulations at Meeting on July 15, 2008

The WCA will be monitoring the Workers' Compensation Board Meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, July 15, 2008.  Click here to see a live webcast of the meeting

According to informed sources, the Board will be considering the adoption of the new "Rocket Docket" (also known as "streamlined docket") regulations.  As currently written, these important regulations would be disastrous for injured workers and turn current New York State Workers' Compensation Law on its head.  If there was ever a time for injured workers to contact Gov. Patterson's office to object to these Spitzer-era regulations, the time is now!  Perhaps the new Governor, along with his recent new nominations to the Workers' Compensation Board (Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey and Mark D. Higgins), should be given the chance to measure the impact of these Spitzer-driven (ie Business Council) regulations on injured workers before rushing to adopt them next Tuesday.

The admirable goal of the "rocket docket" regs was to speed the resolution of disputed workers' compensation claimsHowever, the new regs would do just the opposite, and cause further delay in the in receipt of benefits by injured workers.

The devil is always in the details.  Under the new regulations, injured workers would have to sign a wide- ranging medical release allowing insurance companies to go digging through a claimant's personal medical history.  The practical effect of this requirement, not withstanding the clear violation of medical privacy, would be to allow insurance companies to claim that a person's on-the-job injury and "disability" was related to an old injury.  Just obtaining the old medical records would now result in claims processing slowing to glacial speed.  But even more sinister, it would allow insurance companies to "apportion" a disability rating partially to an old injury, thereby lowering the workers cash benefits.  As Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, Surprise!"  It is all about the money and that's why the Business Council wants this new medical release in the regulations.

One long held concept of all workers' compensation laws is that you "you take the worker as he is at the time of the injury".  Some workers  might resemble Paul Bunyon, while others resemble Humpty Dumpty.  If both Paul and Humpty are working along side each other for years on the assembly line, and one day Humpty's back gives out  doing something that would not cause Paul a twitch, Humpty is still entitled to cash benefits despite his congenital "fragile egg syndrome".  To do anything else would be disability discrimination.

Under the new proposed regs, the insurance companies will argue that Humpty's "disability" was really caused by a genetic defect passed on by his mother and try to pay little, if anything, to Humpty and his family.    This is despite the fact that both Paul and Humpty were successfully performing the same job for years.

Now let's take a more real world example.  In 2006, Sgt. York comes back  home to Queens from two tours of duty in Iraq.  While in Iraq, his back was injured when his armored personnel carrier was blown up.  Despite his injuries, he was able to finish out his last tour. Upon his return, he gets a job as a "track-man" on the subways for the MTA.  On July 16, 2008, after two years on the job, he hurts his back lifting steel track and goes out of work.  If the new regs are adopted, guess what happens??? 

First, the MTA disputes the claim claiming his "disability" is related to his war time service.  They send out the newly created medical release to the Veterans' Administration to get all his war related medical records to prove their case. Of course, the VA promptly sends the requested records four months later.  Then, the MTA sends these voluminous records to their own doctor for review to determine how much of Sgt. York's "current disability" is related to his war time service.  This takes another month.

Lets say the MTA doctor says Sgt. York's current disability is 50% war related, and 50% related to his July 16th work related injury.  Now,  the MTA gets to pay Sgt. York  one half of the cash benefits he would receive under the current law which takes Sgt. York "as he is" at the time of the injury.  The fact that Sgt. York came home from Iraq with a body more like Humpty  than Bunyon makes no difference under the current fair law.  This is how the new regulations, conceived and born during the Spitzer administration, would handle such a claim and turn the current fair law on its head.  Such a change would be cruel to those who really need a hand up, rather than a kick for simply having worked despite prior injuriesThe proposed regs are not befitting of the Empire State.

Thankfully, New York has a new and independent- minded Governor named David PattersonIt is inconceivable that such regulations would be adopted by the Workers' Compensation Board prior to his new nominations taking office.  As we said, the WCA will be watching the webcast of the Workers' Compensation Board meeting next Tuesday.  See you there!

Written By:Tanya M. On July 9, 2008 11:05 AM

I think you are right. This is definetly discrimanation against disabled people like me

Written By:Carmen R On July 10, 2008 1:57 PM

Please stop the Workers Comp Board from adopting the rocket docket