Our vote for everyone in the Illinois WC industry on all sides is to call your State Senator or Representative and let them know how thrilled you are to see the whole WC system being challenged and/or threatened due to hundreds of greedy prison guards, their claimant lawyers and willing surgeons. We are also less-than-thrilled to see Central Management Services do such a completely miserable job of managing claims by State of Illinois employees. This silliness has to stop and stop soon.
According to George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer of the Belleville News-Democrat 59 new workers’ compensation claims have been filed since January 2011 by employees at the southern Illinois prison in Menard, IL. Please note that number means more than 10% of the work force filed a claim in the first six months of this year. If you also aren’t sure, 56 of the 59 were filed by the same claimant lawyer who we are advised is sending all the workers to the same doctor.
Some claims involve alleged assaults by prisoners, but almost half allege repetitive strain injuries similar to previous cases under investigation, the News-Democrat reported. Noting the controversy about carpal tunnel syndrome claims, five of the new cases or just under 10% involve repetitive foot strain or “tarsal tunnel syndrome,” a condition workers are expected to claim is caused by walking or standing on the prison's concrete and cement floors. We wonder how prison guards at other facilities all over the nation and the world manage to make their rounds and keep the bad guys/gals behind bars without suffering from TTS. One has to wonder if anyone in Menard knows about Dr. Scholl’s© custom fitted orthotics and how they rapidly create a custom product in most drug stores to prevent foot problems—take a look on the web at: http://www.footmapping.com/footmapping/home/index.jspa.
In previous reports, the Belleville News-Democrat said Menard staffers claimed nearly $10 million in taxpayer dollars since January 2008 through workers' compensation. The majority of such claims were for carpal tunnel syndrome from locking and unlocking doors and driving prison trucks with supposedly shaky steering wheels. At present, more than ½ of all employees in the prison, including the warden, have made claims and either have received or will receive generous tax-free settlements.
More recently, the Belleville News-Democrat reported Freedom of Information Act disclosures confirmed the State of Illinois Central Management Services agency hired an hand expert from Missouri, paid him to perform an “investigation”, had him write a report when they clearly didn’t have to and they were then “forced” by the paper to disclose his report.
Not surprisingly, in the report, the expert found the work being performed “aggravated” the prison guards’ medical conditions. We remain furious to hear this expert and the experts who performed the prior job analysis in 2008 weren’t asked the obvious question a fifth-grader would ask—how do we stop this problem? In our view, the folks at Central Management Services had a single goal—justify, substantiate, validate, vindicate the millions in taxpayer money being thrown around. We are not amused by this obvious public relations tactic.
We assume CMS is now going to hire a foot expert to analyze the supposedly arduous walking of the prison guards and draft a detailed report indicating such work didn’t cause tarsal tunnel syndrome but it magically “aggravated” it to justify the thousands in medical bills, lost time and settlements CMS can be expected to shower on these state workers.
As veteran defense lawyers, we have never seen any WC defense organization spend the money and time to hire an expert to insure they LOSE claims. It boggles our collective minds to hear the State of Illinois did this.
In our view, John Q. Public will remain outraged about this situation and this great media outlet in Belleville is going to continue keep it in the headlines. As the State of Illinois and its universities have about 120,000 employees, if half of them file claims similar to what is happening at Menard, the cumulative cost may be in the billions.
We caution Illinois unions, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, our hearing officers and legislators, until this silliness is stopped; you are going to continue to hear from the major players on the defense side of the WC matrix calling for meaningful reform.
As we have advised our readers, no private employer in the entire United States:
· Pays as much in workers’ compensation benefits on a per capita basis to their workers as the State of Illinois does—they admit they paid $133,000,000 in one year which exceeds the national WC budget for almost every United States employer.
· Overworks its adjusters like the Central Management Services agency does; each CMS adjuster is expected to “handle” over 1,500 claims each—in the private sector, adjusters are completely swamped trying to handle a fifth that many claims. We consider it “penny-wise and pound-goofy” to save money by wildly overworking your claims handlers. As we outline above, why hire folks to knowingly lose thousands of WC claims??
· Overworks its defense lawyers like the Attorney General’s office does—there is no chance, none that such lawyers can write proposed decisions following hearings; they simply have hundreds and hundreds of claims. Like the CMS adjusters, they are there to lose and lose and lose.
· Pays as much in penalties and attorney’s fees—this means a state employee, the IWCC Arbitrator, is penalizing the decisions of another state employee, the CMS adjuster to the wild benefit of injured state workers and their lawyers; all to the detriment of taxpayers.
· Takes literally no action of any kind to identify, stop or even slow the onslaught of workers’ compensation claims.
· Pension-eligible state government workers who are adjudicated totally and permanently disabled retire at about 130-140% of their pay—they get both pension and T&P benefits without any offset. This costs the State of Illinois about $7M per year, every year.
We feel all of this mismanagement of State of Illinois WC claims poisons the private sector along with WC claims against other government entities who are fighting hard to properly reserve, handle, manage and aggressively defend their claims.
The article from the Belleville News-Democrat is on the web at: http://www.bnd.com/2011/06/12/1745319/menard-workers.html We appreciate your thought and comments. Please do not hesitate to post them on our award-winning blog at: http://keefe-law.com/kcablog.html