Archive for the ‘Medical Unit’ Category

Messele to Apply Prospectively

November 29th, 2011 No comments

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board has issued yet another en banc Messele case, this time deciding that its prior decisions will only apply prospectively, and not retrospectively.  You can read the full opinion here.

In other words, if you were used and abused by the Medical Unit in the past, stuck with an improperly issued panel, you have no recourse but to try to reason out some valuable life lesson to be gained from the experience.  But in the future, at least in theory, the Medical Unit will be required to abide by the strict timeline outlined by the WCAB.

Aside from my cynic compulsion to doubt the happy endings promised at the start of every endeavor, I honestly don’t see much changing in how the Medical Unit does its work.  In six months, the medical unit will again start issuing panels without reviewing applications and say that they simply have too high a volume to review and reject wrongly filed requests.

Then, defendants and applicants will each get a panel and the defendant will have to file a Declaration of Readiness to Proceed to Hearing in order to get the applicant’s attorney’s improperly made request for a panel out.

In other words, learn the new dance, same as the old dance.

Categories: Medical Unit, QMEs Tags:

Medical Unit Inches Towards Propriety

November 3rd, 2011 No comments

Bowing to the voluminous complains of countless workers’ compensation attorneys, as well as the en banc decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in Messele v. Pitco Foods, Inc., the Department of Workers’ Compensation has set out new procedures for panel requests.

Before we play the Ewok celebration dance again, let’s recognize that this is a very limited fix in a very broken system.  The Medical Unit is not about to start following its own regulations or disowning its old unsigned, unofficial memorandum.  In accordance with the Messele opinion, the Medical Unit will only start rejecting pre-mature panel requests.

At least, that is the understanding from the latest DWC Newsline.

From what I can tell, the Medical Unit will continue to:

* Issue panels in a specialty other than that of the primary treating physician (chiropractors and pain specialists for everybody!)

* Issue a second panel to an applicant because he or she now represented (more chiropractors and pain specialists for everybody!)

*[Conceivably] Issue two panels in one case because of two requests (one from the defense, one from the applicant).

In other words, we will have to continue to be vigilant and aggressive, even if that means filing our DoRs in response to the Medical Unit’s errors.

In terms of the new procedures, the Medical Unit will reject premature panel requests.  [Please see my post on Messele, above, for a discussion of proper timing.]  The DWC also suggests including a proof of service with your letter proposing Agreed Medical Evaluators and mentioning, in the proposal letter, the subject of the dispute (for the Medical Unit’s future reference).

Categories: Medical Unit, News Tags:

Timing Your Panel Request

September 28th, 2011 2 comments

The California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board has issued a new en banc opinion on the issue of timeliness of panel requests.  In Messele v. Pitco Foods, Inc., the defendant objected to the treating physician’s report and proposed the use of an Agreed Medical Evaluator to applicant, setting up the requirements for a request for a panel in accordance with Labor Code § 4062.2(b).

Applicant responded with his own AME proposals and then requested a panel.

Defendant then filed its own request for a panel.  The timeline was as follows:

Date of Injury———————————1/29/10

Defendant’s Objection ****************4/20/10

Applicant’s AMEs—————————-4/26/10

Applicant’s Panel Request *************5/01/10

Defendant’s Panel Request————-5/04/10

The Medical Unit, no longer resolving disputes, issued a panel in response to each request, with different specialties.  The Workers’ Compensation Judge ruled that the 5-day “mailbox” rule of the Code of Civil Procedure (§ 1013(a)) applies, and that applicant’s panel request was untimely, so defendant’s panel stands.

For the folks keeping score at home, the first day the panel request could have been filed would have been May 6 (April 20 + 10 days is April 30; plus 5 days for mailing is May 5, so the first day a panel could be filed is May 6.  In the WCJ’s report and recommendation on applicant’s petition for removal, the WCJ acknowledges this error and recommends that both panels be found premature.

On a petition for reconsideration, which the WCAB found should have been a petition for removal, applicant’s petition was granted and the WCJ’s order was rescinded.  The WCAB found that CCP § 1013(a) and 8 CCR § 10507 require the application of the “mailbox” rule to the process of panel requests.

Applicant’s argument that the mailbox rule doesn’t apply and defendant’s argument that the controlling date is when the Medical Unit received the request, not when it was made, were both rejected.  The rule applies and the controlling date is the date the request for a panel is made.

What does that mean for us in the industry?  Once an objection to a primary treating physician’s report has been made by either side, fill out a panel request form dated for the sixteenth day after the date of the objection.

So if the objection was made on November 1, 2011, the counting begins on November 2, 2011, and the panel request form should be dated for November 17.  As soon as November 17 comes around, the panel request should be in the mail, in order to be the first one in and thereby control the specialty.

As yet another aside, the rules clearly state that the specialty of the panel should be the same as that of the treating physician unless documentation is provided for a good reason to the contrary.  But, in terms of practice, this rule of often enough ignored by the Medical Units and the WCJs alike, and it is much better to be the first to request a panel.

Categories: Medical Unit, QMEs Tags:

Excluding a Co-Defendant From QME Communications

September 2nd, 2011 No comments

Ever since the decision in Alvarez v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board  the issue of ex parte communication with a qualified or agreed medical evaluator, as prohibited by Labor Code § 4062.3 has been a cloudy one.  The very language of the Alvarez opinion (“an ex parte communication may be so insignificant and inconsequential that any resulting repercussion would be unreasonable”) leaves nothing more to grasp at than mist when one puts himself to the task of defining what is, and what is not, ex parte communication.

In the recent case of Morales v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, the Court of Appeals denied a petition for writ of review of a decision touching on this topic.

The skinny:  providing the remedy of a replacement panel for applicant’s act of sending medical records to the a Qualified Medical Evaluator and only one of two defendants does not prejudice the applicant, nor is it a final order.

In this case, after the Workers’ Compensation Judge ordered a new panel to issue on defendant’s motion, applicant’s attorney petitioned for reconsideration or removal.  The petition for reconsideration was denied as the ordering of a replacement panel was not a final order.  The petition for removal was denied because applicant failed to show any prejudice from the WCJ’s order.

The facts of this scenario present some interesting questions regarding the right to a new panel.

The ideal outcome for co-defendants can be mutually beneficial, such as a favorable judgment regarding causation, extent of impairment or apportionment.  For co-applicants, such as competing dependents in a death claim, there is only one pie, and it can only be sliced so many times.

Let’s assume the last QME standing after the panel selection process is known to the defense community to issue high-rating reports.  Seeing that this panel QME is not good for either defendant, could one of them send an ex-parte communication to allow the other to demand a new panel?  Or, without planning it, could one defendant accidentally forget to serve the other, the way an applicant might not serve a second defendant, as appears to be the case in Morales?

The ethical implications of this tactic are questionable at best, but the thought does present an interesting question regarding the inner workings of the new-panel remedy.

In any case, absent a settlement, I expect we will see the case of Morales v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board again.

New Procedure for the Medical Unit?

August 2nd, 2011 No comments

Apparently there is a new notice coming out of the Medical Unit: Medical Unit Memo.  This copy is reportedly being attached to all panels now issued by the Medical Unit.

The grounds for obtaining a replacement panel are few, but one of the most common ones is when the Medical Unit fails to follow its own procedures for issuing a panel.  In my experience, usually the applicant will request a panel with the specialty of chiropractic (without any supporting documentation), when the treating physician is a orthopedist or some other M.D.

This is, of course, is a violation of California Code of Regulations § 31.1(b).  Requests to issue a replacement panel sometimes meet with resistance and judicial intervention becomes necessary.

According to this memo, however, it appears that the Medical Unit is not reviewing the panel requests for accuracy and is shifting the burden of following the regulations to the parties.

For defense attorneys, this changes little – as always, we must remain vigilant to make sure a lung or psyche applicant does not get “evaluated” by a chiropractor.  So, as always, I am keeping my DoR forms loaded and my finger on the trigger!

Presently, I am trying to get a copy of the memo which has some letterhead or signature, and possibly a date, so that it carries with it some official weight.

As soon as your humble editor has one, so will you.  If anyone has an official copy, eternal gratitude will be yours if you could e-mail it to:

Categories: Medical Unit, News Tags: