The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 16, 2001

Cross the t's, dot the i's before crossing Michigan's Workers Comp panelists

By The Building Tradesman

John Engler's men have done it again.

His appointees to the Workers' Compensation Appellate Commission have denied benefits to an injured worker for his lifetime. The ruling will be used to deny benefits to thousands of workers.

The case in question involves an iron worker hurt in Michigan who filed a workers' compensation claim against his employer. He told his lawyer's secretary that after the injury he worked a few weeks for another company in New York, but the secretary failed to include that fact on the Application for Mediation or Hearing when she typed it up.

She sent it to the worker, who apparently failed to read the document before he signed it. The signed application was filed with the Bureau of Workers Compensation. Several weeks later, the lawyer caught the omission and told the lawyer for the contractor about the post-injury work, providing the name and address of the New York employer.

At trial, the workers compensation magistrate ruled the worker did not willfully hide the information from the contractor, and because the worker's lawyer quickly corrected the mistake, the contractor suffered no "prejudice" as a result of the omission.

The magistrate awarded benefits to the worker. She said she could not conclude from the worker's mere signing of the application that he intentionally withheld information. "It is equally plausible," she said, "that plaintiff failed to review the petition after it was prepared by the counsel's office."

On appeal by the contractor, the Appellate Commission reversed the magistrate and denied benefits to the worker for the rest of his life. It ruled the worker "willfully" withheld information about the New York employer, reasoning that since he knew he had worked for the New York employer, he must have intended to hide the information when he signed the complete application.

It disregarded the fact there was no testimony to indicate he planned to withhold the information, and it ignored the magistrate's ruling that it was "equally plausible plaintiff failed to review the petition" before he signed it.

Now, every employer and every insurance company in Michigan will be whipping out their magnifying glasses and scrutinizing every application for workers' compensation. If they find any omission, they will accuse the worker of lying, and they will howl for lifetime denial of benefits. For example, if the worker lists on his application three doctors who treated him for his injury, and two weeks later the worker adds another name, insurance companues will seek permanent denial of benefits. They will win, because of the precedent set in this case.

This ironworker and all workers are in trouble unless the Supreme Court overturns this cruel decision of the Appellate Commission. That is possible, but not likely, because the Supreme Court has five Engler-appointed Republicans and only two Democrats.

What workers must do to prevent lifetime loss of benefits:

  1. Make certain an application for Mediation or Hearing is complete and accurate before signing it.
  2. Elect a Democratic governor. He or she will kick out the Engler hacks on the Workers Compensation Appellate Commission and replace them with people friendly to workers.