The Belleville News-Democrat may force IL workers’ comp “causation reform” all by itself. The amazing work of reporters Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk keep finding more kookie claims from southern Illinois and lighting up the national press with how silly things are in that part of our state. Yesterday, they reported Illinois taxpayers may have to pay medical bills of more than $128,000 because a state employee didn't get the telephone headset she asked for, according to a published report Sunday. The Associated Press picked the story up and folks across the globe are again shaking their heads about what we are doing in Illinois. Please assume lawmakers in Springfield are among those grimacing.
The News-Democrat, citing state workers' compensation records, reported a prison finance clerk complained not having what she felt was an ergonomically sound work station or a telephone headset made her strain her neck, causing pain and worsening her pre-existing spine problems.
The newspaper reported Angela Grott, a clerk at the Menard Correctional Center, testified in a hearing in December 2010 not having a headset was the primary reason for her cervical pain. She said supervisors repeatedly denied her requests for a headset or altered work station.
The surgeon who operated on Grott said she had "a pre-existing disc degeneration that was aggravated" by holding the phone in an awkward manner, according to a summary of the claim provided by the Illinois Attorney General's Office. We are not aware of any state requirement on how to hold a phone while working. Now, the clerk's worker's compensation claim in medical bills is already $128,424. Veteran workers’ comp observers are certain she may also cost the State of Illinois hundreds of thousands in lost time and permanency, when the claim finally resolves.
Illinois Department of Corrections officials said they are waiting for telephone headsets to arrive, which will then be given to any employee who wants them. We are waiting for the first claim from a prison clerk who says he or she injured her neck due to the added weight of the headset causing strain on the cervical spine and similarly “aggravating” the problem. Please don’t be naïve--anyone with a state job and a medical problem can somehow relate it to their work—if you don’t change the job, the failure to change is the reason. If you change the job, the changes can also be the “accident” or the reason for the aggravation.
The problem our entire state is struggling with is the lasting trend in the workers’ compensation system in this state of work being an “accident” without need for the slightest trauma or unforeseen event. The concept of “repetitive trauma” has been expanded to just about any problem which requires any medical care.
We have heard from numerous claimant attorneys who all plead the age-old legal concept of the “eggshell plaintiff” makes such claims compensable—we point out the concept of an “eggshell plaintiff” means someone made a mistake causing an accident—once you set an accident in motion, you can’t claim the person injured should have been healthier or stronger.
The problem with using this “scrambled eggshell” concept for prison clerks asking for headphones is the “accident” is the claimant. We can’t imagine this clerk reported anything the slightest bit like what our fathers and mothers thought might be an accident occurred at her work.
We had a claim settle this week for an electrician who worked for our client for ninety days without any incident. Six weeks after leaving, he reported “pain” while working without describing it. About a year later, he had shoulder surgery and “related” it to his normal and ordinary work for our client. His doctor says some of his work put some strain on some parts of his body. All of it led to very unhappy settlement due solely to exposure. Please assume lots of construction workers are now reporting “pain” while working to satisfy the requirement of statutory notice of an “injury.”
As we have advised our readers and hearing officers and state-wide officials, these articles and complaints aren’t going to end unless and until someone makes sense of it. We don’t feel work can be an “accident” and have a sustainable system. We urge the entire industry to try to find a standard that makes sense because we are concerned massive changes may come someday if we don’t take simpler action ourselves.