Californians injured at work suffer from poor compensation and care

As we turn the calendar page to a new year, tens of thousands of Californians injured while working are facing inadequate medical care, denials of insurance payments, and compensation for permanent loss that is among the lowest in the nation.

These troubling conditions are a result of the governor’s workers compensation changes from 2004. The governor has vetoed several bills to cure these ills. He touts as a “success” his horrible attacks on injured firefighters, cops, teamsters, state employees, and teachers. Far from success, these policies hurt working Californians deeply.

Two days before Christmas, Richard Chance held a Sacramento news conference to outline the horrors he has faced since being injured at work.

Richard worked as an Operating Engineer for many years. He loved his work. A motorcyclist hit Richard at work and the insurer denied needed care. Richard is still injured but is losing his temporary insurance payments due to the 2-year cap placed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. What are he and his family to do?

On December 11, 2006, Richard was standing next to his work truck when a motorcyclist came around the corner and hit Richard and a co-worker. Richard flew 35 feet from the impact. He suffered a broken femur that punctured his skin, a pelvic fracture, a broken tibia, a broken fibula, and a traumatic brain injury. Richard lost 41 pints of blood. His femur didn’t heal properly and he had to have a new rod implanted. Richard also developed a blood clot in his lung.

Richard suffered numerous serious injuries, including fractured leg and pelvic bones, and a traumatic brain injury. The insurance company delayed approving Richard’s medical care, resulting in Richard reaching the 24-month cap on temporary disability. Richard has not yet completed his medical treatment, and can’t return to work, but the insurance carrier is cutting off his temporary disability. The financial impacts on Richard and his family from being cut off of temporary insurance payments are extreme, and means they cannot pay their mortgage.

Another truly amazing case exemplifies how insurance companies are mistreating injured workers, because the law enables them to do so without significant penalties.

Taneka Talley was stabbed to death while working at The Dollar Tree. The killer may have targeted Taneka because of her race. The insurance company refused to pay death benefits to Taneka’s 11-year-old son because the slaying may have been racially motivated. The insurer claimed that made it “personal” and not work-related!

Taneka Talley, 26, was a single mother with one son, Larry, now 11 years old. She was working at The Dollar Tree in Fairfield trying to provide a better life for him.  Taneka’s wish for her son was for him to graduate from college.

Taneka went to work early on March 29, 2006, to help open the store. Shortly after opening, Taneka, who was African-American, was stabbed in the chest by a white man she had never met. According to a court-appointed psychiatrist, the man had determined to kill the first black person he saw that day, and that person was Taneka. The insurance company, Specialty Risk Services, denied death benefits to Larry, claiming the hate crime aspect made the death “personal,” and therefore not work-related. California law requires payment of death benefits if the employee was killed on the job as a result of employment. A “personal” connection would cover an attack, such as by a husband who kills his wife on company grounds. This denial of death benefits for Taneka’s son was astounding. Why would the fact that the attack was racially-motivated be grounds to penalize Taneka’s surviving son?

Although the insurance company finally agreed to pay the compensation it owed to Taneka’s family, the delays and denials caused great hardship. Widespread bad publicity no doubt played a role in the insurance carrier finally paying up. But how many cases meet this unique test for newsworthiness?

How can our state government continue policies that penalize our working men and women, and reward insurance companies for denying and delaying legitimate care and compensation? These policies are forcing taxpayers and group health providers to pick up the care and support of injured workers, while insurance carriers pocket the difference, reporting record profits since the governor’s changes were made in 2004. It’s time for these policies to change.

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