Monday, January 1, 2007, 07:30 PM - Top ten listsAs 2006 turns to 2007, here is my list of the top 10 California workers' comp stories in 2006:
1. In December 2006, the Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau released startling statistics on California workers' comp. Insurers reaped record 46% profits (after payment of claims and insurer overhead, not counting investment earnings on
premium dollars) in 2005, even though rates for employers had decreased significantly.
2. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoes SB 815. SB 815 would have raised benefits for some permanently disabled workers to compensate for the effects that the 2004 reforms have had on awards and settlements for workers with permanent partial disabilities.
3. The 2 year limitation on temporary disability (passed as part of the 2004 reforms) began to hit many workers who have been off work for more than 2 years awaiting or recovering from surgery.
4. The California Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court began to hear cases interpreting ambiguities in the 2004 workers' comp reforms. Due to conflicting Court of Appeal decisions, the chairman of the statewide Workers' Comp Appeals Board announced a moratorium on hearing cases involving apportionment issues (issues as to what is the cause of the disability or what deductions are allowable for other prior awards).
5. The Commision of Health, Safety and Workers Compensation (known as CHWSC or "cheese whiz") called for a change in the schedule for rating permanent partial disabilities. The Schwarzenegger administration responded by announcing that it is awaiting the results of its own study.
6. In the Costa case, the statewide Workers' Comp Appeals Board rejected an attempt to throw out the entire current schedule for rating permanent partial disabilities, but indicated it will, in some cases, allow vocational expert testimony to rebut the results under the rating schedule.
7.A Santa Cruz attorney representing injured workers was murdered by his client and an injured worker was arrested after having brought a weapon to the Oakland WCAB. Both events sent a chill through the system, reminding attorneys and insurers that worker frustration can lead to violence.
8. Frequent disputes arose as to whether particular pre-1/1/05 injuries were covered under the "old schedule" (pre-AMA guidelines) or the new rating system. A confusing set of fact patterns and analysis in various cases contributed to great uncertainty among claimants, lawyers and judges.
9. The Schwarzenegger administration unveiled regulations that will provide for some audits of and penalties for improperly performed insurer medical treatment reviews (so-called "utilization review").
10. Governor Schwarzenegger was re-elected, guaranteeing that any significant change in the system over the next 4 years will have to come with his administration's blessing.
In future posts, I will provide detailed commentary on many of these events. Stay tuned, though, for my next post: projections for the top stories of 2007.