3 Reasons Why I Talk to the Injured Worker

TRUST, CATHARSIS, COMPREHENSIVE RESOLUTION

 

Near the start of every mediation, once each side is in their own caucus room, I spend time talking directly with the injured worker. There are at least three reasons to do so.

1. I want to build trust in the mediation process.

The injured worker needs to feel part of and emotionally invested in the mediation process.  The injured worker is probably unfamiliar with the mediation process and may be apprehensive. The parties may distrust each other. Empathy is one of the traits of a good mediator.  I assure the injured worker that nothing will happen that the injured worker does not agree to. When the injured worker trusts the mediator and the mediation process to be fair, the likelihood of settlement increases.

2. Catharsis is part of the settlement process.
The mediation may be the closest the Injured Worker will get to a day in court.  Telling the story is a prerequisite to accepting settlement.  I want to make sure the Injured Worker gets the chance to tell the story in a neutral setting. Letting out emotions is good, and crying not uncommon.  Occasionally an attorney will intercede and take the place of the client to tell the story from the client’s viewpoint.  This is a mistake.
3. Sometimes the Injured Worker’s concerns are not being addressed.
At one mediation, when it looked like the attorneys had wrapped up all the issues, the Injured Worker asked me, “When will I be able to go back to work?”  A return to work was not part of the attorneys’ deal, and I had to rewind the process to make sure the Injured Worker’s concerns were addressed.  When the Injured Worker feels able to speak directly to the mediator, this type of omission– which could lead to problems for all participants later– is less likely to occur.

I participated in many workers compensation mediations before I became a mediator.  I never saw a mediator take the time to talk to the injured worker. Instead, I saw mediators create a barrier between themselves and the injured workers that made settlement more difficult. I work hard to make sure no communication barriers exist.

Motivation For Advocacy Based Claims Handling: A New Idea

Pictures of injured workers.

That’s it.

I recently finished reading Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini. He relates the story of a group of management consultants who were working at their client’s site in a glass-enclosed conference room. They were tasked with designing incentive programs to reward employees for reaching goals. Rather than being distracted by the activity they could see around them, the ability of the consultants to see the people they were designing for led to a more successful result. They felt a unity with those people. Once this was realized, they placed pictures of workforce members around later on-site workspaces with the same result.

What if claims offices were decorated with pictures of people representing injured workers? This could be pictures of people with disabilities, such as people in wheelchairs, people getting into a medical transportation vehicle, people as patients. Mix in headshots of a diverse group of people.

Cialdini’s research tells us that claims professionals are more likely to feel unity with people they can see. By the way, he also says that those sentimental motivation posters actually succeed. Who would have guessed?

Perhaps no one is marketing images just this way, but it seems like it would be pretty easy to create an appropriate collection. This seems like an inexpensive way to determine if viewing images of injured workers can produce more effective advocacy based claim handling.

What do you think? Would management give it a try?

Stop Hiding The Ball: What You Need To Tell The Other Side

Your best friend in negotiation can be your opponent—provided you put your report where your mouth is. Too often parties withhold evidence which would support their position. Sure, your opponent’s initial reaction may be to denigrate your evidence. But they may not have anything to refute it. It might even be too late for them to try to work up something.
Help Your Opponent Convince Their Client
So why did it take so long to get to this point? Because you have been hiding the ball. If you expect large sums for a life pension or for treatment the carrier had denied plus penalties plus fees, be prepared to show why the employer was wrong. You can’t expect opposing counsel to advise their client to change their case evaluation if you’ve been keeping secret the reports that crush their position. Of course, timing is important. There are many reasons why you might not want to show your hand too early. But by the time you are at the mediation table, you must be prepared to put your cards on the table.

How Mediation Confidentiality Helps
Perhaps you have a sub rosa video or some other smoking gun the other side doesn’t know about. Your mediation brief can be confidential– for the mediator’s eyes only. When you are in caucus (a private meeting with the mediator,) you can discuss secret information with the mediator. If you don’t want it disclosed to the other side, it goes no further. But putting the mediator in the picture allows her to frame the issues in the case to maximize the potential for settlement.

Negotiations succeed when parties are in the same ballpark. If you don’t communicate what your ballpark is, your opponent will assume that their evaluation is the correct one. It’s hard to play in the same game when one of you is at Dodger Stadium in L.A. and the other is at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. To bring everyone to the same field, you have to communicate.

America Runs On . . .

You’ve probably seen the ad:

Courtrooms– even WCAB courtrooms– run on evidence. It’s your job to make sure you have evidence to support your view of the case.

The advice to communicate your evidence so your opponent can help you “sell” your position assumes you’ve done everything necessary to gather that evidence.  That could mean obtaining a narrative medical or vocational report or ordering a Medicare Set-Aside allocation report.

Mediations are efficient and successful when everyone comes prepared with information to support their demand or offer.

The Elephant in the Mediation Conference Room

Sometimes the issues the lawyers and adjusters are discussing are not what is most important to the Applicant.

Recently, in a pretty small case, the professionals told me the disagreements were about what had been paid and what was still due. The injured worker told me his biggest concern was that, although he had returned to modified duty, the employer had told him there was no more work for someone with his disability. The injured worker was terrified that he would be out of a job with no ability to get another one, but that is not what the lawyers were discussing.

Many times, the injured worker’s biggest issue is not one that is dispositive of any issue in the case, but, in fact, is the driver for the injured worker’s decisions– the proverbial elephant in the room the negotiators are trying to ignore.

Because these are often personal matters, the injured worker may not share these concerns with the employer’s side– or even the injured worker’s own lawyer.

  • The woman with a sick teen-aged son who desperately wanted to control her own industrial medical care, but was afraid that if she C&R’d her case, the lump sum payment would result in the family’s loss of Medi-Cal which provided care for the son.
  • The man suffering from non-industrial cancer whose biggest concern was leaving an estate to support his wife.
  • The injured worker who wanted to return to his home country, but feared that expressing that desire would diminish the value of the claim.

These issues can often be discovered and resolved through mediation. Parties can express their concerns to the mediator confidentially. Once the mediator knows the real issue, the mediator can often re-frame the issues to allow the parties to reach resolution– all without breaching confidentiality.

Don’t Miss the Crossover Issues

Crossover issues are not strictly workers compensation issues– which is why they are sometimes overlooked. That omission can cost a party money or even lead to a professional malpractice suit. Third Party Claims
Product liability, medical malpractice, and negligent roadway design are examples of third party claims usually unaffected by the exclusive remedy rule. Collisions may give rise to the most common third party claim.

SSDI
Whether and when to apply for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) are not simple decisions. Federal law is written to make sure a disabled person does not earn more when not working than the person did on the job. The “80% rule” limits the combined total of SSDI and indemnity payments to an injured worker. This rule principally affects lower wage earners.

Medicare/Medi-Cal
Virtually all workers compensation professionals recognize the need for a Medicare Set-Aside in appropriate cases. Correct self-administration remains a challenge. Additionally, practitioners should be aware that two forms of Medi-Cal currently exist: traditional and expanded. Savvy negotiators can often use these programs to create a safety net to cover the injured worker’s medical expenses as part of a Compromise & Release completely closing the claim. C&Rs drafted without considering Medi-Cal issues could imperil medical care for the injured worker and the injured worker’s entire family.

Immigration
Undocumented injured workers are eligible for workers compensation benefits in California. Some undocumented workers have been in their jobs for decades. They remain under the legal radar until a workplace injury occurs. At that point, a false or stolen identity may come to light, creating issues for the injured worker and the employer. The Patriot Act’s provisions about identification required to open a bank account or to send money out of the country can also interfere with an injured worker’s decision to choose a Compromise & Release.

Tax
The tax code provides that money received on account of a physical injury is not taxable. Usually all payments made on a workers compensation claim arise from a physical injury. However, a number of circumstances could trigger taxation. Also, once an injured worker receives a buy-out, earnings on invested or banked sums are taxable.

Get Help
Workers compensation professionals should recognize crossover issues, and counsel should alert clients when these issues appear. The next step could be to bring in an expert in that area, provide one or more referrals, or advise clients to seek professional advice on their own.

You Have To Play To Win

–How Mediation Is (Not) Like the Lottery–

No, I’m not advocating you play the lottery, but the slogan does apply: you have to play to win. The odds of winning the California Super Lotto Jackpot are 18 million to 1 against you. The likelihood you will be able to resolve your workers compensation issue in mediation is more like 80-90% in your favor providing you participate.

Take a Calculated Risk
The only settlement offer without a chance of acceptance is the one you never make. Some parties complain that they can’t settle the case. Yet, those same parties refuse mediation or come to mediation unwilling to negotiate. You cannot expect resolution in mediation if your position is to never move off the number that was refused pre-mediation. You have to play to win.

Playing the lottery is the classic example of a blind risk. A blind risk embodies an irrational hope, an action based on nothing more than emotion, expecting something for nothing. A person who takes a calculated risk, on the other hand, has objectively assessed the situation and examined the upside and downside potential. This is true for investors, explorers, world leaders, and negotiators.

First evaluate, then negotiate
Before you can effectively negotiate, you have to do your homework, i.e., run the numbers to evaluate the claim. Once you have considered the best and worst alternatives to a negotiated agreement, you are ready to proffer your demand or offer. You have to play to win.

Mediation allows the people with the most knowledge about the claim to take control of resolving it. During mediation, the mediator can help you calculate your risks and negotiate resolution.

Heartsink Patients

Heartsink” is the term for how the treater feels when it is difficult if not impossible to help patients with chronic pain and disability. A 1989 Toronto Star editorial placed these patients into four categories: dependent clingers, entitled demanders, manipulative help-rejecters, and self-destructive deniers.
You know these injured workers. They are the ones whose life is wrapped up in their claim. The only way they will give up that obsession is to replace it with a plan for life after claim closure.Injured workers need to feel that a settlement is the just result. They need adequate compensation to create a safety net for future medical care. A WCAB hearing is often just a prelude to more conflict.

Mediation can provide the forum to help the injured worker create a plan for life without an ongoing claim.

 

Reduce Industrial Accidents– Repeal Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time (“DST”) is stupid

There is no reason for all of us to make ourselves crazy changing the clocks twice a year. DST does not save fuel and does not help farmers. Instead, it causes industrial accidents and collisions. John Oliver focused on this problem in a comedic piece on his show.

Please contact your state legislator about repealing DST.

In the last legislative session, the California legislature came thisclose to putting a proposition on the ballot on this issue. That’s right. The legislation doesn’t actually fix the problem; it passes the buck to the voters to do it. Well, OK- it’s something. At the last minute, the bill failed.

If you are a Californian, ask your state senate and assembly representatives to re-introduce and support AB-385 from the 2015-2016 session to repeal DST. You can identify your state legislators via this government website. Once you get to the contact page, if you don’t see this issue (and you probably won’t) you can identify it as a “general” or “legislative” issue.

Here is a sample message you can send.

Re: Re-introduce AB-385 (2015-16 session)

Daylight Saving Time (“DST”) is a drain on productivity. It increases industrial accidents and collisions. Retention of DST is expensive in dollars and human effort. It does not help farmers; it does not save fuel. There is no place for it in modern America. Please re-introduce in your house and support AB-385 from the 2015-2016 session to repeal DST. California has been the perennial leader that many states follow (though in this case Arizona and Hawaii already shun DST and seem to do just fine). California should be the first big state to get rid of DST and bring some sense to the simple task of keeping time. Thank you.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT MEDIATION

Mediation remains unfamiliar to most California Workers Compensation professionals. To succeed, you– and your client– need to know what to expect. While all mediations share some similarities, each mediator has a unique style. Here’s what you can expect at one of my mediations.
We usually start in joint session. The discussion might be limited to the logistical: introductions, bathrooms, lunch, etc.  People get to look each other in the eye.The first real step will be for the Applicant to tell how the injury happened and how things are going now. The purpose of this is to allow catharsis and to build empathy and trust between the injured worker and the mediator. Usually this is in a separate session known as a “caucus,” but if the defense needs to hear this information or wants to ask questions, it might happen while the parties are still in joint session. If the defense has heard the Applicant’s story many times, I may have Applicant do the venting in caucus.

I usually start negotiations with the Applicant’s side. If there were prior offers and demands, I will review those to make sure we are all at the same starting point. Then comes exploring the positions which support those offers and demands. The parties’ briefs should explain the issues; the more complicated the case, the more important the briefs. Defining issues for the mediator in the brief makes for a more efficient mediation. But the briefs do not limit the number of issues; sometimes new issues emerge in mediation.

I might speak with one or more attorneys outside the hearing of their clients, for example, to discuss a point of law.  All parties might reconvene to brainstorm solutions to an issue.  If parties are disrespectful of one another, I will stop a joint session.
In the give and take of numbers, issues will be discussed and swapped.  Cases do not settle without compromise.  Parties should expect give and take to finalize the settlement terms.
Participants may be surprised by the amount of time spent in caucus with the other side.  As mediator, my job is to give all parties adequate time to express their concerns.   While there are certainly exceptions, a typical workers compensation mediation lasts three to five hours.

YOU CAN’T SETTLE IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE ISSUES

HOW MANY PIECES ARE THERE TO THE SETTLEMENT PUZZLE?  
Answer:  Probably more than you think.
jigsaw bigger

The more issues there are in a negotiation, the greater the opportunity for give and take across issues. This adds flexibility for parties to shape a settlement acceptable to all. Trading across issues in negotiation is called “logrolling.”Every case has its own unique issues. Here is a partial list, some obvious, some I have seen people miss.

INCOME ISSUES
  • Disability percentage, including whether the disability is caused by an industrial injury
  • Apportionment
  • Applicable Date of Injury
  • Past payments- when were Permanent Disability payments supposed to start? Was the right rate used? Were past payments properly characterized as PD- or should they have been TD, Temporary Disability. Is there a TD overpayment?
  • If Life Pension payments will be due, when should they start?
  • Average Weekly Wage- Have you taken into account overtime and the value of non-cash compensation?
  • Ability to perform future work
  • Return to Work issues- will the employer provide modified work?
  • What about training? Check the new California law about computer purchases.
  • Liens
  • Penalties
MEDICAL ISSUES
  • What are the accepted body parts?
  • What expenses are reasonable and necessary? This can include issues about support services.
  • What is the appropriate medical specialty?
  • Is the treatment the Applicant wants compensable?
  • Is the Applicant’s over-all medical condition likely to shorten life expectancy?