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Profiles of people who changed workers’ compensation law.

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Letters to the Editors

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• Warren Schneider
• Marjory Harris


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When I was in high school, I immersed myself in
the works of Franz Kafka. Little did I know then that
someday, like Kafka, I would become a lawyer and
get involved with workers' compensation. I also had
no idea at that time -- other than from reading Kafka
-- just how overwhelming and exhausting it was to
deal with bureaucracy, inefficiency, blind obstinacy,
and indifference to human suffering.

While Franz Kafka was not an applicant's attorney –
in fact, he worked for the state fund -- he did have a
great regard for the safety of workers and was an
early proponent of the hard hat or safety helmet.

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka’s novella written in
1915, Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find
he has turned into an insect. His family eventually
abandons him to die. While the story is subject to
many interpretations, it reflects the profound
alienation of its central character.
 
I had no idea at that time just how overwhelming and exhausting it was to deal with bureaucracy, inefficiency, blind obstinacy, and indifference to human suffering.

It seems that WC law has metamorphosed into
this insect which, like Samsa, is being abandoned
to die. The system now serves bureaucrats and
fosters inefficiency. It is alienated from and
indifferent to the suffering of those it was meant to
serve. Defendants would sooner pay UR nurses
and doctors, private investigators, firms that will
show how to further reduce the pitiful Whole Person
Impairment ratings, than give anything to the
injured worker.

WC law has metamorphosed into this insect which is being abandoned to die.


In over 30 years of legal practice, I have observed
repeatedly how disability alienates and isolates the
injured worker. Now more than ever in the past,
with so many billions of dollars sucked out of the
system at the cost of the suffering of the injured
workers, we see more alienation and despair.
When workers cannot pick doctors they know and
trust, when they often cannot even find a doctor on
the MPN list that will even treat injured workers,
when benefits end arbitrarily rather than when they
are well enough to work again, when they lose their
jobs and get no real help in retraining and finding
new employment, when the pittance that permanent
disability has become is reduced even further
because they were not young and pristine before
their injuries – when these things happen, and they
turn to lawyers to help them, they are often once
again rejected.

Disability alienates and isolates the injured worker. When they turn to lawyers to help them, they are often once again rejected.


So often a call begins with a sad and discouraged
voice asking, “Are you taking any workers’ comp
cases?” It is no secret that the organized bar is
shrinking. As certified specialists go out of practice,
so will their knowledge and experience. Injured
workers now flock to the board in pro per, to throw
themselves on the mercy of Information and
Assistance Officers and Workers’ Compensation
Judges. Many injured workers just give up,
exhausted by the complexity of the system and their
own disability.

Many injured workers just give up, exhausted by the complexity of the system and their own disability.


Of course, this is just what the reformers wanted,
although they claim otherwise. Once the lawyers
are gone, who will police the claims system and
guard injured workers from abuses?

While there were abuses in the old system, and
plenty of blame to go around, it makes no sense to
go to the other extreme and create new abuses
against those the system is meant to protect.

Reforms' created new abuses against those the system is meant to protect.


In this post "reform" era, there are now so many
things wrong with the system, it boggles the mind.
The medical treatment delivery system suffers from
fleeing doctors, delays in treatment, treatment that
does not measure up to the standard of care
available in the private sector, irrational limitations
of care (e.g., having the legislature play doctor and
set a limit on physical therapy, no matter how serious
the injury), and too few Qualified Medical Evaluators.



Medical guessing games on apportionment, the
MPN maze, usually ridiculous UR, treatment cookie
cutter guidelines -- the new landscape of California’s
workers’ compensation system ensures a season
in hell for anyone needing more than minor medical
treatment after a work injury.

California’s “reformed” workers’ comp system ensures a season in hell for anyone needing more than minor medical treatment after a work injury.


The current Permanent Disability Rating Schedule
gives a pittance to those with badly damaged bodies
and lessened economic opportunities. Providing a
retraining voucher which the injured worker cannot
afford to take advantage of in most instances, or
lacks the capacity for learning in an academic
setting, is cold comfort. Apportionment chips away
large chunks of the small ratings.

The PD schedule gives a pittance. The retraining voucher is cold comfort..


Caregiver burn out and fears for economic survival
will drive many practitioners away. I am sorry to see
that so many of my colleagues have left the field and
so few new ones are coming in. Personally, I plan to
stay on as long as I can, representing injured
workers and mentoring newer arrivals to the field.

Caregiver burn out and fears for economic survival will drive many practitioners away.


Marjory Harris began practicing law in 1974 as a
defense attorney and later became an applicant's
attorney and a certified specialist. She continues
to represent injured workers at the San Francisco
and Oakland venues and mentors attorneys on
big cases.


Reach Marjory at (510) 558-1580 or email to MHarrisLaw@earthlink.net
www.workerscompensationcalifornia.com


 
The Metamorphosis of California's
Workers’ Compensation System:
The Editor’s Rant on Reforms

Editorial opinion by Marjory Harris
> Big Case How-To-Guide
> Computer Corner: Med Manager
> Surviving SB 899
> Getting Best Treatment & Evidence
> Structured Settlement Tips
> New Role for Voc Rehab Eval
> The Nurse Case Manager
> The Physical Therapist
> The Metamorphosis of WC